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Internet and Social Media in Asia: Battleground for Freedom of Expression

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Recent developments and advancements on the Internet in Asia, including the tremendous growth in Internet accessibility and the use of social media, have created an unprecedented platform and space for free speech and opinions particularly in less open societies in the region. As a result, many governments in Asia have heightened efforts to restrict and control the Internet and the use of social media. Based on the cases compiled in this publication, the following key emerging trends and concerns relating to freedom of expression on the Internet and social media in the region have been identified:

  • Heightened censorship measures during specific key political events, as well as the employment of mechanisms to censor, block, or filter out online contents. More often than not, these measures are implemented in a nontransparent manner.
  • The increasing use of existing harsh criminal laws (including laws relating to national security and incitement to hatred), as well as the introduction of new laws and policies, which are often vaguely worded and overly broad, to criminalise free speech online.
  • Increasing liability of intermediaries over online contents, and the growing pressure on intermediaries to play the role of regulating the Internet.
  • Violations of freedom of expression, including cyber attacks and physical threats and harassment, by non-state actors, who in some cases are allegedly employed by governments.

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