Hey Twitter, You & ‘Pakistani Law’ Can’t Silence My Dissent
Why is Twitter asking Pakistani journalists and activists to fall in line with the country’s government?
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, I woke up to an email in my inbox from Twitter Legal giving me a warning about my social media account. The email said:
“We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received official correspondence regarding your Twitter account, @TahaSSiddiqui. The correspondence claims that your account is in violation of Pakistani law. Please note we may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.”
Not a One-Off Incident
I was immediately taken aback not knowing what was going on, or who was it that had corresponded to Twitter about my tweets. Twitter had not even informed me of the content that they were talking about but then I started inquiring around and found out that another fellow journalist Gul Bukhari had received a similar email from Twitter.
Then I started getting reports about multiple Twitter users, mostly journalists and some activists about how they had received such emails too. Clearly there was a pattern and most of these Twitter users were the ones critical of Pakistani government especially the Pakistan Army.
However, most of these colleagues of mine decided to silently delete the tweets that were flagged, as they feared their accounts being muted in Pakistan, or worse suspended altogether. But since they live in the country still, their fear for further crackdown is not unfounded and understandable. In recent past, Pakistani authorities have been detaining, arresting and even kidnapping those vocal about state abuse on social media.
I, on the other hand, decided to challenge Twitter, given my exile abroad.
I resettled in France this February after surviving a kidnapping and possible assassination attempt on my life in January this year by armed men I believe to be from the Pakistan Army.
Twitter Giving in to Repressive Regimes?
So, I wrote back to the platform and explained my position. Firstly, I explained to Twitter how I do not live in the country any longer so Pakistani laws do not apply to me (even my Twitter location tag says I am in France). I then went on to explain how Pakistani laws can be problematic when it comes to international standards. And many of them are in direct violation of international values.
I explained how the law to declare someone Muslim or not, the blasphemy law, the Objective Resolution etc were in direct contravention of human rights values that Twitter should stand up for.
I also pointed out laws that have come into effect recently, that infringe upon the rights of people – for example the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has already been widely used by the Pakistani government to quash dissent.
I waited for Twitter to respond, but it has not until now. And therefore, it seems like Twitter is only interested in intimidating me on behalf of a repressive regime like the one in Pakistan, that is controlled by the Pakistan Army from the shadows.
Twitter’s Got Money on Its Mind
Why is Twitter doing this? The most obvious and simple answer is: business interests.
According to independent estimates, over 44 million social media accounts exist in Pakistan and that is a big market. And it appears that Twitter does not want to lose this market, especially after it was threatened this August by the Pakistani government for not complying.
In a recent story reported by Pakistani media, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had informed the country’s Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat that while Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms had complied with requests from the government to block objectionable content, Twitter was not obliging.
An official of PTA further told the committee that “the platform would lose business if it was shut down in the country and that the authorities were determined to teach Twitter a lesson.”
And voila, in less than three months, Twitter seems to have given in, like the other social media platforms that are already heavily censored in Pakistan. Facebook regularly removes pages and posts critical of the Pakistani state and its policies, especially the Pakistani army, and YouTube has introduced a local version for Pakistan (after it was blocked for almost three years). And therefore, it is safe to say that today these social media giants have become collaborators of repressive regimes like the one in my country.
In the past, these websites were blocked by the Pakistani regulators under the pretext of blasphemy laws, but it seems that the current government is not even looking for such an excuse. And has just communicated point blank about shutting down the website, if it fails to abide by the country's requests.
But the more they silence us, the stronger we become. Ever since Twitter has sent me the email, and I have gone public about it – more and more Pakistani social media users, especially journalists and activists, are coming forward to speak about how they have faced similar harassment by the social media giant.
Renowned international publications have reached out to me to do a story about this issue. So, in effect, the results that the government of Pakistan wanted to achieve with the help of Twitter to silence me and other dissenters have only exposed them more and made our voice louder. I hope they have learnt a lesson.
(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist and founder of safenewsrooms.org. He tweets @TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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