We came across the following article on a website called News Target (newstarget.com).
The article makes the claim that China is proposing that a new United Nations (UN) convention contain provisions that criminalise the dissemination of “false information” online.
Specifically, the article alleges that China aims to force signatories to introduce laws in their countries that would ‘establish as criminal offences… (the) making available of false information that could result in serious social disorder’. The headline of the article suggests that this would allow China to ‘legitimise censorship’.
When investigating the provenance of the information in article, we noted that News Target had cited Natural News, a site that we have previously found to be a prolific source of conspiracy theories.
Treaty Negotiations at Play
Looking into the allegations made in the article, we found that the original report was sourced from an article on a site called the The Record. The Record is a news site owned by Recorded Future, an organisation specialising in cyber threat research that we recently cited in our report on foreign disinformation in 2022.
The information in The Record article corroborates that found in the News Target. The UN is currently undergoing negotiations to outline the terms and provisions of a new international convention on ‘countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes’.
This is being negotiated at the UN as the only international treaty on cybercrime that exists currently is the Budapest Convention, which was negotiated at the Council of Europe in 2004 and was never signed by countries such as China or Russia.
In the consolidated negotiating document from 20 January on the official UN site, the article proposed by China does appear with the support of Iran, Cape Verde and Russia. Several countries including New Zealand, the European Union and its member states, the US, Norway, Japan and South Korea, among others, have requested deletion of the article.
The Record points out that there will be ‘several more sessions in Vienna before a final negotiation…, after which a draft treaty will be introduced to the General Assembly’.
It is uncertain if the draft will ultimately include the article and how the General Assembly will vote on it, but The Record finds that non-Western proposals on internet governance and cybercrime are growing in support at the UN.
The negotiations over the Convention is not an isolated incident—the UN has increasingly become an arena for China, Russia and the Western allies to compete over cyber issues such as state cyber operations and the role that domestic governments should play in controlling online content.
The Record assesses that the proposal is ‘an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to legitimise its controls… over what people can see and share online’.
Accurate News, Dubious Source
Notwithstanding the veracity of the news on the Chinese proposal at the UN, News Target’s adoption of the article appears to be in service of a broader, conspiracy-laden agenda.
It uses its own article to promote ‘related media’ on China that leans on conspiracy theories. This includes an opinion piece on Natural News titled ‘Techno-authoritarianism is here to stay: China and the Deep State have joined forces’.
At the article’s conclusion, it also links a clip of a segment on the popular podcast the Joe Rogan Experience where a guest predicts that China has ’10 years left in its existence’.
The factcheck organisation Media Bias/Fact Check finds that News Target not only shares an owner with Natural News, but also republishes much of its content from the latter. Media Bias/Fact Check asserts that News Target is ‘one of the most discredited sources on the internet’.
The article on News Target serves to illustrate how factual reporting may not always be an indication of a platform’s credibility, and why the provenance of sources and the publishing history of platforms should always be scrutinised.
Nevertheless, it is true that China is attempting to criminalise dissemination of false information online in a new UN convention.