This past month, Twitter agreed to block tweets five times in Pakistan due to material that was deemed blasphemous by a bureaucrat. According to GigaOm’s report on May 21, this marks the first time that Twitter has blocked tweets in the country since it instituted its country-specific censorship plan in 2012.
Chilling Effects, which notes when and where Twitter does censor tweets, that using Twitter’s Country Withheld Content Tool five requests for censorship were made by Pakistani bureaucrat Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. Batin wished to censor drawings of the Prophet Mohammed, photos of Qurans being burned, messages from anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star. The earliest request was May 5 and the most recent fell on May 14.
When the tool was introduced in 2012, Twitter said it would try to use it as few times as possible. But in cases where they do use it, they see it as the best way to continue operating in the country when they would be otherwise banned. But does that make it okay?
By continuing to operate in a country, Twitter does provide an important avenue for free speech and general communication. And this is a step away from their old policy where if a request for censorship was allowed, the content would disappear globally, rather than in just the country requesting the censor. But when individuals in those countries don’t have many outlets for their political speech, Twitter might be playing a dangerous game of making censorship too easy for opposers to request.
New York Times cites a tweet from the opinion page editor of Karachi’s Express Tribune, which notes that there’s a webpage for people to go to to submit a complaint about blasphemy.
Does this make censorship too easy in countries that need freedom of speech and opinion more than ever?