The international wave of cyber censorship has now arrived in Latin America, via Veracruz state, in southern Mexico, this time under the guise of a new “anti-meme” law.
Both civil society organizations and users of social media have argued that the “gag” strategy within the reform is an affront to the right to freedom of expression.
The bill in question consists of a reform made to Article 196 of the local penal code that considers as “cyber-bullying” the dissemination of lascivious or malicious information about a person, which causes psychological, family, or work-related harm.
Passed by unanimous consent, the bill, proposed by a deputy José Kirsch Sánchez, of the leftist PRD party, will impose “from six months to two years in prison, and up to one hundred days of work in favor of the community to whomever, using any means of digital communication, disseminate harmful or malicious information about another person, revealing, transferring, or transmitting one or more images, audio-visual recordings, or texts, which damage their reputation or self-esteem and cause them to be affected by psychological, family, or work situations, or in their daily environment.”
In principle, the reform seeks to protect citizens from possible personal attacks. However, its scope is so wide that it has the potential to completely suppress humor and, above all, criticism of the political class. This is why it is not a surprise that this reform has arisen at the behest of the political class, because they will enjoy the greatest benefits.
It is clear that the diffusion of unverified information is both irresponsible and dangerous. However, a measure that can criminally penalize citizens for this fact sets not only a precedent for censorship of freedom of expression, but also gives politicians the power to determine what information can be disseminated and what can not.
All the elites in the governing class will have to do is declare something to be a “rumor”: be it a fact, figure, or important event. Those who question authority will be ostracized, and even potentially criminally penalized.
The first inconsistency with the bill arises is in the name of the term “cyberbullying” itself. According to the deputies, it entails “putting on the Internet a compromising image (real or photomontages), sensitive data, things that can harm or embarrass the victim, or damage their relationships.”
Although the measure refers to the disclosure of confidential or false information, in the example it does not provide exceptions for sharing true information. So it is sufficient in the eyes of the law, that the information disseminated damages the other party, even if it is completely true information.
Although the reform was proposed by the PRD, it was supported by independent deputies Miriam Judith González Sheridan and Eva Cadena Sandoval, and by PAN legislators María Josefina Gamboa and María Elisa Manterola Sainz.
In 2013 the Supreme Court of Justice declared unconstitutional a law that was approved by the Veracruz legislators with which they intended to punish the issuance of false statements through social networks.
It should be noted that this law was approved during the Government of Javier Duarte, who is now imprisoned for corruption and drug trafficking. Among other complaints, during his tenure, he built a mansion of USD $2 million, while 25 billion Mexican pesos disappeared under his watch.
Data provided by the pollster INEGI showed that 95% of the inhabitants of Veracruz think that corruption is common, or very common, which is why the state was ranked second most corrupt in all of Mexico in a study.
With this reform, when dealing with a case of corruption, a phenomenon that reaches the highest echelons in Veracruz, those who denounce the act are attacked and those who commit the corruption reap the benefits.
Thus, a law that is purported to protect citizens, in reality serves to prevent the dissemination of any incriminating information about those who are criticized the most on social networks: politicians.
In September of this year, in spite of the resistance of tech leaders like Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and internet guru Sir Tim Berners-Lee, European legislators managed to incorporate Article 13, known by its detractors as the “meme killer”, because it puts an end to this creative way of illustrating that which diffuses ideas with images.
Like Article 11, what the European reform aims to control is copyright; thus, all information disseminated on social networks must be authorized, even when it means paying for the dissemination of images.
Thus, the bureaucracy and the political class that feeds, is now threatening our very sense of humor: our ability to make jokes.