Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed several balls into law penalizing "fake news" and reporting that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”
Media outlets and private citizens who share content that Putin's government deems "fake news" or disruptive to the status quo could face penalties of up to 1.5 million Rubles, the equivalent of $22,900.
Offenders may also face incarceration.
"Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses," The Moscow Times reported. "As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity."
Despite substantial pushback from journalists and civil rights activists, who signed petitions denouncing the laws as "direct censorship," the Kremlin said the laws are designed to combat "insults."
"No doubt, one can hardly agree with the opinion that this is some sort of censorship," Dmitry Peskov, Putin's top deputy, told Russian state media. "This sphere - the sphere of fake news - insults and so on, is under strict regulation in many countries of the world, even in European states. This undoubtedly has to be done in our country."
"What's more, this sphere of fake news, insulting and so on, is regulated fairly harshly in many countries of the world including Europe," Peskov added. "It is therefore, of course, necessary to do it in our country too."
Putin's knack for labeling stories he dislikes as "fake news" runs parallel to the cyclical rhetoric uttered by President Donald Trump, who often takes it even further by calling the free press "the enemy of the people."
Following reports that Trump grossly inflated his wealth to secure bank loans, the president on Tuesday repeated this attack on the media - for the 24th time since June 2018.
"The Fake News Media has NEVER been more Dishonest or Corrupt than it is right now. There has never been a time like this in American History. Very exciting but also, very sad! Fake News is the absolute Enemy of the People and our Country itself!"
Just like in Russia, Trump promotes one network - Fox News - which has rapidly devolved into a pro-Trump propaganda machine. Trump spends most of his mornings watching Fox & Friends and then often shares clips and quotes on Twitter. Seldom does Trump cite any other sources.
Tuesday's tweet was the latest in a three-day-long rage-tweeting bender that began on Sunday.
Unhappy about how he was portrayed on a Saturday Night Live rerun, Trump suggested that the Federal Election Commission, which has nothing whatsoever to do with late-night television, punish SNL and its producers.
Trump also accused SNL and Democrats of colluding with Russia without offering any evidence to back it up.
The onslaught of more than 50 tweets and retweets continued into Monday when Trump tweeted a voided check he claims to have written to the Department of Homeland Security as a donation.
"While the press doesn’t like writing about it, nor do I need them to, I donate my yearly Presidential salary of $400,000.00 to different agencies throughout the year, this to Homeland Security," he wrote. "If I didn’t do it there would be hell to pay from the FAKE NEWS MEDIA!"
The media has never denied that Trump donates his salary, but the Twitterverse had doubts the check was even real.
Trump's "enemy of the people" trope makes one thing clear: free speech is under attack by an American president.
The odor of authoritarianism is seeping from the Trump White House.
Fears are growing that Trump's assault on the media will become increasingly aggressive as we head into 2020, and that does not bode well for American democracy.
The election is more than a year-and-a-half away, but with Trump's accumulating legal problems and declining mental state, his words grow even more menacing. For now, our First Amendment safeguards are holding.