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Can "Egyptian Facebook" curb social media chaos

Wed, July 04, 2018 16:39

By Amira Sayed:

Tightening control over social media use in Egypt and its impact on freedom of expression in general has always been a debatable issue. The debate has been rekindled following the preliminary parliamentary approval of a draft law authorising the monitoring of social media use, with the aim of protecting national security and putting the brakes on false news and cybercrime.

Member of parliament (MP) Bassam Fleifel has submitted a bill to create an "Egyptian Facebook"to regulate the use of the social media. According to the draft law, accounts shall be linked to the National ID. "To create an account, you have to enter your national identification number. This means, each user will be responsible for what he is posting. Also, people less than 18 years old shall not be allowed to join the Egyptian FB," Fleifel said in a press conference.

More importantly, any person who creates a fake account shall be sentenced to no less than one year in jail or shall be fined up to LE 100,000. According to Fleifel, this move will be made in cooperation with the international social networking company, Facebook.

Speaking to The Egyptian Gazette, MP Mohamed Talaat said he supported the bill since it would help curtail the social media chaos. "Of course, social networking websites have many advantages. But they can be used as a tool to destroy the country by spreading rumours. We have many examples of young people who have been brainwashed by terrorist groups through the social media," added Talaat, who is a member of parliament's Communications Committee. Talaat pointed out there was a sharp difference between the words "restrictions" and "regulations".

"The bill regulates the use of the social media without affecting the freedom of speech. Freedom means responsibility. Thus, this bill makes each Facebook user responsible for what he/she is sharing via the social media," Talaat said.

“Some countries, like China,” Talaat continued, “have blocked Facebook. In Egypt, we are not going to block social media sites. We just want to apply some regulations,” he said.

"According to the bill, a committee formed by the National Telecom Regulatory Authority shall be in charge of monitoring and supervising the Egyptian Facebook. This will help curtail cybercrime," he added.

Ahmed Farghali, a professor at the Faculty of Computers and Information Technology, Cairo University, said the bill could not be enforced.  "Maybe, the government will create an Egyptian Facebook. But, of course very few people will use it. It also remains unclear whether the bill will make the Egyptian Facebook a substitute for the popular Facebook, or just an alternative,” Farghali told the Gazette.

Farghali went on to say there was no reason to issue such unrealistic bills. "There are more important issues that should be given priority in parliament. Definitely, the social media should be regulated to maintain national security. But the solution would be to apply certain regulations, not create another website.”

He added, "Creating a so-called Egyptian Facebook will isolate us from the rest of the world. People in other countries will be using Facebook, while Egyptians will be using their own Facebook! It is hilarious," Farghali said.“If parliament wants to create such a website, it is better not to call it Facebook. They can call it anything but Facebook."

MP Talaat, said, “It is too early to talk about the issue. The bill is still under discussion.  We all agree that the social media must be regulated but we disagree over the method."

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