It would be sort of fun to watch the more authoritarian governments of the world attempt to combat internet memes with censorship if it weren’t both so damaging to the free speech ideals I hold so dear and if recent, ahem, events weren’t making these stories hit a little closer to home than they would have but a few months ago. Countries like Russia and Indonesia have both taken steps to attempt to make illegal the time-honored tradition of putting up a famous person’s picture and then typing words across it. Despite both governments’ insisting that these legislative attempts are all to do with protecting people’s honor and/or quelling false information about the subjects of these memes, the truth is that the aims behind them are more to do with clamping down on dissident speech and protecting those in power from criticism. That, indeed, is why these laws tend to be worded so vaguely. Vague enough, in fact, that it’s quite clear that they can be used to criminalize pretty much any speech that the ruling government doesn’t like.
And joining in on this fascist fun now is Spain, which is attempting to criminalize memes in the vaguest manner possible.
The scheme was put before Congress and would see restrictions placed on “spreading images that infringe the honour of a person,” referencing a 1992 law that is now outdated due to the emergence of the internet. PP politicians want the new ruling added to the unpopular Citizen Security Law, which was introduced in 2015 and places curbs on public protests, social media commentaries and disrespecting the police. It has been referred to as “the gag law” by critics.
Let’s just drive that point home: the Spanish government is considering an addition to a wildly unpopular law designed to keep people from voicing their displeasure at the government that would further criminalize people voicing their displeasure at the government. This isn’t so much the ruling Spanish party putting its fingers in its own ears and shouting “La la la, we can’t hear you”, as it is putting the barrel of a gun in its detractors’ mouths and shouting the same thing. It’s a terrible idea for remaining in power, which is why I assume there are no ostriches running federal governments.
To drive that point home, it seems the PM Rajoy found himself quickly the subject of many memes as a result of banning memes.
— cagonros (@cagonros_) November 8, 2016
— Código Nuevo (@CodigoNuevo) November 8, 2016
Seniorita Streisand, at the government’s service, it seems. The good news in the case of Spanish meme-makers is that there is some confidence that this law won’t be passed due to the ironically slim support the Popular Party has in the government.
They may not find it so easy, however, since they hold only 137 of the 350 available parliamentary seats after the PP finally received approval for a second term thanks to support from liberal party Cuidadanos, leaving Rajoy with the weakest mandate in Spain’s recent political history.
Free the meme, Spain. Free the meme.