ALMATY -- The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is continuing its support for the development of the internet in Central Asia and countering disinformation, hate speech and violent extremism across the region.
The OSCE Programme Office in Nur-Sultan organised the 10th Annual Central Asian Forum on Internet Development. It took place in Almaty May 30-31, with a focus on "Digital Literacy: Competence, Security, Consumption."
About 200 participants, including government officials, civil society representatives, media-related non-governmental organisations, professional associations, the diplomatic corps, specialists, lawyers and journalists from all Central Asian countries attended the event.
They also included representatives from Belarus, the Czech Republic, Singapore, and Ukraine.
International and local specialists spoke about the role of the state, media and society in the development of the information environment, the influence of the internet on public life and media, and information literacy, fact-checking and freedom of expression in Central Asia.
The participants discussed issues related to cyber-security and the protection of personal data during the two-day event.
"The internet creates new opportunities for media development and facilitates rapid delivery of information to the public, including through social networks," Diana Digol, deputy head of the OSCE Programme Office in Nur-Sultan, said at the event.
"However, it is also the source of substantial challenges and even threats to freedom of expression and freedom of speech," she said. "With this in mind, it is critical to build capacity on the mechanisms of legal regulation of media on the internet."
"One of the biggest challenges of the digital age is to let all people participate in it," said Thomas Helm, the resident representative to Kazakhstan of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political party foundation.
"Good digital communication is not a playground for a few but is one of the core competencies of our time," he said. "The fight against digital poverty, therefore, needs to be an integral part of a good media policy."
Arman Abdrasilov, director of the Nur-Sultan-based Centre for Analysis and Investigation of Cyber Attacks, highlighted his country's achievements at the forum.
In January 2017, the then-president of Kazakhstan (Nursultan Nazarbayev) instructed the National Security Committee to create the "Cyber-Shield" system in the country, Abdrasilov said.
"As a result, in the past two years, as much has been done in this area [in Kazakhstan] as other countries do in seven to 10 years," he said.
He identified several problems in this area, including a shortage of specialists, while noting the contribution of the mass media and non-governmental organisations in promoting cyber-security.
Kyrgyzstan has more than 2 million internet users and about 7 million mobile internet users, Almaz Ismanov, a Bishkek-based analyst from the Media Support Centre Foundation, said at the forum.
"Every Kyrgyz has two to three SIM cards," said Ismanov, explaining how the country has more mobile internet users than residents. "At the same time, 65% of parents do not limit children's use of social networks and the internet."
Secondary school teachers in Kyrgyzstan have been receiving media literacy training since 2012, he noted. Creators have developed educational materials for teachers and educational cartoons for schoolchildren.
Protecting the privacy of one's data is imperative, says one Kyrgyz journalist.
"It is advisable not to post photos of yourself and your relatives, especially children. Criminals may exploit your data and photos," Munara Borombayeva, a Bishkek-based correspondent from the Kyrgyz Telegraph Agency who has received cyber-security training, told Caravanserai.
Although many Kyrgyz joined social networks and messaging apps when the internet became available 10 to 15 years ago, "only now are we beginning to understand the threats that lurk on the internet," Borombayeva said.
"For example, terrorists use social networks and messaging apps to recruit. There are very many fake news stories that people believe and share on the internet," she said.
"If someone is not media-literate, he [or she] is easy to control," she said.