This post is also available in Arabic.
Disinformation is a global issue, and in many cases governments have used it as a cover to adopt laws and policies that can be leveraged to manipulate the free flow and exchange of information or to censor government critics and suppress political dissent. As we highlight in our latest policy brief, Fighting misinformation and defending free expression during COVID-19: recommendations for states, in many countries, laws to fight disinformation or misinformation in the context of the COVID-19 global health crisis are poorly crafted and can therefore be used as a tool to stifle free expression.
In Tunisia, civil society has been fighting just such an initiative.
On March 12, a member of the Tunisian parliament proposed with urgency and a lack of transparency a draft law to combat misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis, on the pretext of fighting “fake news” and controlling the flow of information on social media platforms that could impact “national security and public order.” As Access Now and other members of civil society pointed out, the bill, which criminalizes sharing misformation, is very dangerous. It directly conflicts with local laws and provisions of Tunisia’s Constitution that guarantee freedom of thought, opinion, and expression (Articles 31, 32, and 49), conflates disinformation with online defamation, and proposes disproportionate penalties, including jail time and steep fines. Public backlash has forced the withdrawal of the bill, but it remains possible that lawmakers will revive it.
What happens next? This video answers your questions
We must remain vigilant!
There is legitimate concern about disinformation drowning out accurate information on social media platforms in Tunisia. However, we and our partners in civil society worry that the Tunisian government is not looking at the issue from the right angle. There will be an aftermath to the COVID-19 pandemic, and any response to disinformation or misinformation must align with human rights and embrace principles of good governance. That will ensure a healthy future and a stronger democracy for everyone as we emerge from this crisis.