Kazakhstan dispatch: new law seeks to regulate online platforms and restrict fake information

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Aidana Tastanova is a Kazakhstan national and a 3rd year law student attending the Moscow State Institute of International Relations under a Kazakh government scholarship. 

Aitylğan sõz – atylğan oq (translation: ‘A word once spoken can never be recalled’)

– Kazakh proverb

On July 10, the lower house of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, the Majilis, adopted the Law ‘On online platforms and online advertising’, aimed at regulating this sphere.

Everything that is illegal offline should also be illegal online – this postulate of the European Union’s law enforcement practice outlines the principles of online behavior in the best possible way. Social networks have formed a new space of information entrepreneurship, in which professional competencies of their time were born – bloggers, SMM specialists, targetologists and a number of others. The necessity to regulate the quality and reliability of online content, shadow income from online advertising, online fraud, and to put up barriers against cybercrime prompted the adoption of such a regulatory act.

The authors of the Kazakh law, when preparing it, aimed to solve several troublesome issues. In particular, this is a gap between the dynamics of the development of online platforms and online advertising with a legislative framework, the lack of effective legal mechanisms guaranteeing respect for the rights of all entities conducting business on online platforms, and legal contours for conducting online advertising. Moreover, during the preparation of the Kazakh law on the regulation of online platforms and advertising, international experience was not ignored. For example, the Online Safety Bill in the UK. And the German Network Enforcement Act, which raises the issue of protecting citizens from false, malicious information, was also considered.

Social networks have become the main source of information that forms the socio-political agenda, and have assumed the role of a barometer of public mood. According to the data of the new Digital News report, which was recently published by the Reuters Institute, the share of those who prefer to receive news on the Internet through social networks has increased to 30%.

And in this regard, the adopted law introduces for the first time such concepts as ‘influencer (blogger)’, ‘online platform’, ‘Internet platform user’, ‘public community’ and others. And this, according to experts of the media sphere, is a big breakthrough in the field of legislative description of the difference between bloggers and classical mass media, as well as regulation of the relations of these specialists with the target audience.

Thus, the law obliges the owners of Internet sites to cooperate with government agencies in the fight against false information and tax evasion. A requirement is being introduced to install a ‘counter’ for the number of users and appoint a legal representative of the online platform for interaction with authorized bodies.

Furthermore, the key issue within the framework of the law is the development of the interface of online platforms in the state language, the volume of content in which is growing every day. And this content is becoming more diverse and interesting. However, not all online platforms provide the opportunity to use the interface in the Kazakh language, there is no elementary opportunity to fully familiarize yourself with the user agreement.

Particular attention is paid to the need for advertising labeling by users posting advertising content. Legislative acts regulating the distribution of advertising materials on online platforms have been absent until today, as well as the concept of targeting.

Thus, it can be seen that this legislative package is aimed at further improving the regulation of the functioning of online platforms on the territory of the republic, including the responsibility of influencers or bloggers for published materials and the dissemination of false information, as well as their advertising and business activities, that is, the payment of income taxes for advertising published in their social media accounts.

It must be said that this bill has been repeatedly criticized by human rights activists, who called it “illiberal”, “tightening censorship”. However, it is possible to give the opposite arguments in favor of the correctness of the adoption of this law. So, firstly, the development of social networks and artificial intelligence technologies leaves no doubt about the rapid expansion of opportunities for manipulating the consciousness of citizens, sowing panic, spreading fakes. Secondly, we must not forget that the young generation is extremely dependent on all sorts of gadgets and networks, vulnerable in terms of communication and negative influence. It is enough to recall the ‘blue whales’, cyberbullying incidents, crippling the psyche of children who sometimes do not have basic skills of cyber hygiene and protecting themselves from dangerous content. Therefore, the use of such legal mechanisms in the media sphere is a pragmatic solution that is necessary in the era of progressive development of digital technology. But the risk of censorship is also one we may not ignore. There’s hope that adequate safeguarding provisions and free speech considerations will continue to be balanced.

Source: Jurist