Pakistan Internet Content Regulator Asks Twitter To Take Down A 'Blasphemous' Search

from the we-only-ask-for-the-impossible dept

As more countries enforce their local laws on offensive content, the Chilling Effects takedown clearinghouse is becoming a strange place to hang out. Russia’s Roskomnadzor has been particularly active, targeting Twitter users and bloggers who post anything that violates that entity’s sensibilities — most of which seems to be related to drug use or suicide. The UK’s elastic defamation laws have led to several requests for content removal, some of which are requested without any court decision in the requester’s favor. The new EU court decision ordering Google to “forget” certain links will undoubtedly see an influx of whitewashing requests in the near future.

Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has started its own censorious efforts, mainly targeting anything that doesn’t comply with the government-approved religion. A recent request by the PTA asks for the removal of “un-ethical” tweets and a “blasphemous URL.” Its overreach knows no bounds.

The unethical tweets request targets accounts well out of its jurisdiction — three accounts run by adult performers (all links NSFW-ish). Of these three, only one remains live — possibly because she is a resident of the United States (and incredibly famous). The other two are suspended, but a cache inspection seems to indicate these are not of Pakistani origin.

But things go from merely annoying to truly bizarre when we get to the supposedly “blasphemous URL.” The following seems to indicate the PTA really has very little idea how Twitter — and the internet itself — works. (link NSFW — gore, death, nudity.)

Needless to say, the URL is still live. And will always be. You can’t ask for the removal of a URL that performs an action that has dynamic results. You can’t even ask to have every result returned to be removed unless you’re willing to copy down each offending URL. Burning the Quran may be a blasphemous act (according to the PTA) but these search results aren’t going anywhere. (This isn’t an isolated incident. This one asks for the removal of a Twitter searches for photos of drawings of Muhammad as well as for the term “draw Muhammad day”.)

The PTA could just not perform that search and save itself from witnessing blasphemy, and it would have more of an effect than petitioning Twitter to do something it can’t actually do. The same goes for the three “unethical” accounts. No one’s forcing anyone to visit those and someone working for the PTA has to spend a great deal of time viewing the religiously-unviewable in order to find something to complain about.

A larger problem is the fact that Twitter’s willingness to oblige on a per-country basis makes it altogether too easy for governments to censor almost anything that offends them, as noted by Mathew Ingram at GigaOm.

For me, the troubling thing about Twitter’s selective content-blocking tool is that, like Google’s selective adjusting of the borders between countries based on where the user is located, it almost makes censorship too easy — just another feature box that can be checked — and that encourages governments like those in Turkey and Pakistan to use it for anything that seems even remotely offensive or irritating, a list that seems to grow by the day.

By selectively removing that content or changing the borders on maps for certain users, the world becomes a little less open, without most people even realizing that it is happening. […] [M]aking censorship easier shouldn’t be the goal, I don’t think.

These requests are coming from a government entity that temporarily lifted a YouTube ban for three minutes before slamming that door shut once it realized blasphemous content was still available. This government has also blocked/banned Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, Bing, MSN, Amazon and any form of encryption. It seems almost redundant to be surfing Twitter for porn star accounts and pictures of burned books when it can just cut off the site entirely.

But this is what you get when you let government and religion freely intertwine — lots and lots of outrage and very little common sense.

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Comments on “Pakistan Internet Content Regulator Asks Twitter To Take Down A 'Blasphemous' Search”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is why Twitter is no friend of freedom

It’s become quite fashionable with many clueless newbie activists to use Twitter…but it’s really very stupid. Twitter will bow down before any and EVERY government on this planet, obediently, because it wants to do business in those countries and because its executives are cowards — too weak to tell a government like Pakistan’s to go fuck itself.

Twitter’s not the only one — but it would be good to keep their fawning capitulation in this instance in mind when they next pretend to be defenders of free speech. They’re not. They’re defenders of profits. Theirs.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘But this is what you get when you let government and religion freely intertwine — lots and lots of outrage and very little common sense.’

and in an effort to do the same, supposed democratic governments are following the same path. once censoring starts, it can only go one way, and that isn’t the uncensored road either! the UK, Australia and others have already started, i just hate to think where they will stop. using the same old excuse of porn and protecting the children to get the censorship off the ground, up and running, then in came the web sites that were meant to be blocked all along. the ones the entertainment industries wanted, but couldn’t to start with. and like with politicians here, Cameron sold his arse to Hollywood et al

Anonymous Coward says:

The US Gov. usually isn’t so direct and obvious when dealing with undesirable individuals and businesses. The US Gov. prefers to sanction adult entertainers’ bank accounts, and force them out of business through bankruptcy.

Pakistan vs America. Two separate approaches towards dealing with undesirables, ultimately leading to the same outcome and shutting the undesirables down.

zip says:

This is just another step in the slippery-slope that critics were warning about when Google started censoring its search results to appease Hollywood’s copyright cops, when Ebay started banning Nazi artifacts to appease Jewish complainers, etc. There will always be something on the internet that some pressure group or government doesn’t like, and companies take the easy way out and just ban it — free speech be damned.

It never ends.

Whatever says:

The only slippery slope here is the one in your mind. What is really happening is that countries with strong religious representation are looking to enforce the law of the country on the citizens of that country. It’s perhaps what will be the true tale of the internet for the next decade.

Essentially, it’s the digital version of the clash between open free western ideas (although often not entirely free or open) versus the closed minded “we know best” rules of many countries.

Moreover, it represents the whole thorny set of legal issues that the net faces, the “most permissive” countries versus the “least permissive” in everything from piracy to porn, from religion to politics. The question of a country’s jurisdiction over it’s own citizens is in play, and the results are more likely not to be good for the online world.

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