Austria is looking to create online accountability for internet users like that of China’s social network ID verification. In China, various forums are required to verify and authenticate users and their real-life identities.
Government spokespeople for the Chinese government have explained the rationale behind the law as being a driving force to dispel “false rumors, filthy language and illegal messages, which damage the online environment.”
The law has also been entirely effective in quelling government criticism as well, and we can see real life examples that prove how ridiculous the laws are in that Winnie-the-pooh is image restricted in China, since people said President xi Jinping looks like him.
Now it seems Austria’s government is following a similar path to online censorship, and it’s even using the same sort of language and narrative to push its goals.
“Unfortunately, there have been an increasing number of clear violations, denigrations and humiliations online in the past under the cover of anonymity. That’s why we need a framework for more responsibility online,” wrote Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, on Twitter.Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, on Twitter
Does this ring any bells? It looks like Sebastian Kurz finds the exact same problems with internet and discourse as the Chinese government.
The new law would take effect in Austria in 2020, and it would make it mandatory by law for internet platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to register their users. If hate postings, or any other suspicious activity is found, authorities will have permission to contact the platforms and identify users quickly and efficiently.
The new law will only apply to large platforms that have more than 100,000 users or more than 500,000 euros annual turnover in Austria, as well as online media that receives more than 50,000 euros in state aid.
The Austrian government believes the internet is “too free” and that it cannot be without laws. The online space should not be a space without laws,” Bluemel told reporters.
While there is a certain element of truth that harassment and other forms of negative content proliferate social media, the privacy ramifications and control given to the government can set a dangerous precedent, as seen with China.
How will Austria define what is problematic? And how can we truly define what the government’s goals are? Is the law really designed to stop hate speech and help users online, or is it designed to make the government have more power?
It’s easy to make laws like these and to put them in place to a certain extent, but they are not only hard to enforce, but also to wide in scope. For example, the new laws will give even more data to social media platforms that are already trampling people’s privacy. What will happen when Facebook collects IDs in Austria and inevitably leaks the information out like it has done so many times already?