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