Pakistan No 1 in Facebook content censorship
Islamabad: Pakistan has emerged as No 1 country in the world when it comes to censoring content on the Facebook, a new official report by the social media giant revealed.
According to an analysis of the report released by the company on Friday, Pakistan has made 2,203 requests to Facebook for content restriction, the highest in the world, during the first six months of 2018. The country recorded more than 700 percent increase in such requests as compared to corresponding period of the last year. Pakistan has about 36 million Facebook users, according to the company data. Talking to The News, digital rights activists attributed this rise in content restriction to growing wave of censorship on traditional and social media in Pakistan. However Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Muhammad Naveed argued that government requests made to Facebook were related to issues like blasphemy, anti-state content and pornography.
The company in a fresh report said that Pakistan made 2,203 requests to Facebook to remove particular content during first six months of 2018. This is despite the fact that Facebook has already introduced electronic bots to take down hate speech and illegal content automatically using catch words and phrases. Pakistan is followed by Brazil (1,855 requests), Germany (1,764 requests), Turkey (1,634 requests), Russia (1,546 requests) and India (1,524 requests) in fresh ranking of Facebook in terms of content restriction. The data analysis of last few reports revealed that increase in Facebook censorship was steady in Pakistan. For the last six months of 2017, Pakistan had made 300 such requests while in the first six months of the last year, only 177 requests were made by Pakistan. However, in terms of PTA’s complaint against Facebook users, Pakistan saw a slight decline in the first half of this year with 1,233 requests against user accounts. In the last half of 2017, Pakistan had made 1,320 complaints against Facebook accounts. Pakistan was 13th in this ranking of requests against Facebook users while US was first with 70,528 and India remained second with 23,047 requests.
According to report, in 2018 Pakistan made 92 emergency requests and 1,141 requests were made through legal process. In 58 percent such cases, Facebook shared data of users with Pakistani authorities, the report said. When The News approached some individual complainants and those who monitor social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, they, on condition of anonymity, claimed that they have filed complaints with the Pakistani government authorities but still propaganda is being carried out against them without any stop. They said that they have been labeled as ‘anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan, agents of India, Jews, America etc; they have been baselessly accused of taking money and other corrupt practices. They wondered if the public complaints were forwarded to Facebook and other social media platforms by the government, adding that if it was done there is no positive response.
Digital right activist Haroon Baloch said the rise in content restriction is linked to overall censorship trend in Pakistan which has spread across all the media platforms. “Sometime requests made by PTA under PECA violate fundamental right of expression as the Pakistani law does not fully protect this right,” says Baloch who is digital media manager at Bytes for All, a non-profit organisation working on the internet freedom in Pakistan. The digital activist explained that under content restriction, posts are deleted from the Facebook and pages are taken down on the requests of the host governments. Haroon said Facebook does not disclose categories under which such requests were made, raising concerns about the freedom of expression.
Talking to The News, PTA chairman said Pakistan’s request generally depend on nature of events happening in the country. He said the blasphemy issue is sensitive for the nation so the increase this year might be connected to requests related to that issue. When asked whether Facebook censorship was related to this year’s general elections, he strongly argued against it claiming that normally politically motivated requests are not forwarded by PTA to Facebook. He said most of the requests were based on complaints lodged by individuals and institutions while PTA acted on its own on only three types of contents which are related to blasphemy, pornography and anti-state content. When asked about curbing political dissent and genuine criticism of state institutions through social media censorship, he said Facebook does not blindly follow requests of Pakistani government as the company has its own rules and guidelines. He said even request made under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 are sometimes turned down by Facebook if the content does not violate its rules as Pakistan does not have Mutual Legal Agreement with the USA where Facebook is based. Asked how then Indian government is able to influence Facebook in curbing freedom of speech in occupied Kashmir, the PTA chairman admitted Pakistani government has reached better arrangements with Facebook during last several months and the company is now more receptive to the Pakistani requests.
In its report, Facebook claims, the company responds to government requests for data in accordance with “applicable law and our terms of service.” “Each and every request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency and we may reject or require greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague,” says the company. “We accept government requests to preserve account information pending receipt of formal legal process. When we receive a preservation request, we will preserve a temporary snapshot of the relevant account information but will not disclose any of the preserved records unless and until we receive formal and valid legal process,” it added.