Authoritarian contagion: the impact of Western disinformation laws on media repression in Asia

Global concern about disinformation has been exploited by authoritarian states as an opportunity to enact new censorship laws and engage in repression of independent media. European democracies’ legislative moves in response to the disinformation threat have been cited by less democratic states to justify more sweeping legislation. Singapore, for example, is expected to introduce new laws after a policy debate that referred extensively to recent moves in Western Europe, such as Germany’s new internet enforcement law. This paper analyses authoritarian regimes’ discursive use of legal precedents set by democracies. These politically-motivated citations are usually selective and misleading, ignoring democratic jurisdictions’ checks and balances. Such discursive practices contribute to authoritarian contagion effects waves. Regimes may be imitating one another, or at least taking advantage of the general climate of “democratic recession” to engage in more repressive behaviour.