The government has been exploring the ways and means to increase its control over social media, especially Facebook and YouTube to rein in the spread of anti-state propaganda and malicious content on different digital platforms.
Relevant ministries and the Telecom Division and ICT Division are working on separate laws to gain more control over the foreign technology companies offering services in Bangladesh, sources informed the Daily Sun.
Besides, the use of virtual positioning network (VPN) affects the ability of the authorities to control the data transmitted through the internet platforms, according to cyber security analysts.
The VPN masks the users’ online footprint by creating an untraceable private network.
Regarding the social media regulation, Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said the law (amending of telecom act) is near to being finalized.
“We are working to amend the telecom act, including the social media section to increase monitoring over Facebook, YouTube and other platforms. We are continuing discussions with them for improving the outcome,” Minister Mustafa told the Daily Sun on Monday.
A vested quarter uses VPN to spread harmful content, anti-state propaganda and rumours to defame public figures and eminent personalities, experts said.
The use of various social media including Facebook has increased in Bangladesh since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 47.2 million Facebook accounts are from Bangladesh, which is 28 per cent of the country’s total population, according to NapoleonCat, a Polish agency.
The Telecom Minister said the anti-liberation forces use social media to spread propaganda against cabinet members and other reputed persons to serve their own interest.
He further said the government has been working to strengthen social media monitoring through BTRC.
“We hope the day is not far away. We will be able to increase the control over the platforms in the near future.”
Technology experts said that control over social media is a challenging task for any government as the users often use VPN to use those platforms anonymously.
“None can control the internet as the data transmission through secure VPN software is now available publicly. Besides, the social media platforms maintain policies on public privacy. Facebook and other messenger service providers hardly respond to any government as the company applies end-to-end encryption for user data transmission,” Rezwanur Rahman, a cyber security analyst, told the Daily Sun.
In 2020, the government requested that Facebook provides the account details of 897 users; the social media giant responded to 44 per cent of the requests. In 2019, the government sought user information on 421 accounts.
Requesting not to be named, another technology expert said the government can discuss with Facebook, Google for setting up local offices for keeping the data inside for national internet.
“In the age of cloud computing, the control over internet contents including social media is hardly possible. Any strict regulations on Facebook may lead the people to other ways of communications like Telegram or Wire where no government can interfere with data transmission,” said the expert.
“We can only block the web address inside the country. There is no option to block specific links rather than stopping the service on national internet,” the telecom minister recently said.
Minister Mustafa said Facebook once claimed the linguistic problem as a barrier to remove malicious content though many Bangla natives are working at the company.
“Facebook has a staff responsible for Bangladesh issue. Besides, two staff are working in Singapore and Delhi. BTRC maintains regular communications with those staff on the content issue,” he said.
In September last year, Facebook announced the appointment of a Bangladeshi for supervising the local contents and conveyed the message to the headquarters of the social media giant.
Facebook made its first direct VAT payment to the National Board of Revenue in July. Google and Amazon followed suit in August. Revenue board officials expect payments from other tech companies soon.