Kazakhstan Adopts Law to Regulate Untamed Social Media Scene

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Kazakhstan has wielded the cudgel in its fight against online fakes by adopting legislation further criminalizing the dissemination of anything deemed to be disinformation.

Under the same law signed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on July 10, social media users will be required to pay taxes on any revenue they generate through their content.

These rules are part of a broader pattern as the authorities strive to tame a social media scene that has flourished in the absence of a vibrant traditional media landscape. With many outlets having been co-opted, crushed or cowed into quiescence, consumers of engaging information have turned instead to the output of small-scale operations on platforms like Telegram, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

As the authorities see it, fake or misleading online information can run the gamut from covert advertising to rumor-mongering. Citizen journalists reporting tips from the public on matters of broad interest may at times also fall prey to this description, however.

Some provisions in this law are aimed specifically at protecting online users from financially misleading information. Social media account users are required to clearly label commercial information – advertising, in other words – so that it is easily distinguishable from normal content.

The punishment for spreading anything deemed to be false information will incur fines of 69,000 tenge ($156) for individuals and 138,000 tenge for “business influencers.”

Critics complain that the definitions of what could be punished under this law are still far too vague.

“What is false information? There is no clear definition in the law, anything can be included in theory, so this could be an attempt to introduce self-censorship,” Diana Okremova, head of the Legal Media Center public foundation, told Eurasianet.

But Nikita Shatalov, a lawmaker in the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, feels the legislation brings in long overdue protections for potential victims of fraud.

“The need to devise a law on advertising on social media pretty much suggested itself in the wake of high-profile cases of bloggers misleading people with ads and dragging them into,  well, let’s call them misadventures,” Shatalov wrote on his Telegram channel. “Now there is accountability for that.”

Shatalov appeared to be alluding specifically to the case of two popular vloggers, Meirzhan Turebaev and Meirkhan Sherniyazov, who were last month sentenced to time in prison for their role in popularizing a fraudulent pyramid scheme.

Sanctions of up to seven years in prison already exist for people found to be disseminating false information that could lead to unrest endangering the public, while this legislation is envisioned for cases considered less serious.

The aspect of the new legislation that has raised the hackles of some online personalities is the one affecting their pockets. Under the law, prominent social media users, known locally as bloggers, are equated to business owners.

From the fall, they will be required to pay taxes on income received from advertising goods and brands and other services. Tax rates can vary from 3 percent to 10 percent depending on the amount of income.

Almaty resident Saltanat Kazybayeva, who posts on health issues on Instagram, told the Current Time news outlet that many bloggers do not have large enough turnovers and profits to be able to create a legal entity and pay taxes.

“This will create difficulties in blogging and for bloggers to make any money,” Kazybayeva said.

Source : Eurasianet