Twitter has fired up its “ban specific content in specific countries” capability for the first time in Pakistan, and has recently complied with more removal requests in Russia, too.
Abdul Batin, of Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority, submitted five separate takedown requests for Twitter accounts and tweets that the agency wanted blocked within the country for being “blasphemous” or “un-ethical.” They included Twitter accounts dedicated to anti-Islamic movements, images of the Prophet Mohammad and, of all things, the Twitter account of porn star and Duke University freshman Belle Knox (among other naughty accounts).
The five requests were made between May 5 – 14 and, as Chilling Effects notes, it’s the first such time that Twitter has agreed to censor content within Pakistan.
In January 2012, Twitter announced that, going forward, it would be able to block tweets that ran afoul of certain countries’ restrictions on speech. Germany and France, for example, ban pro-Nazi content, but it is protected speech under the First Amendment here in the United States.
As a result, Twitter could ban such content from users in Germany and France, but it would remain live for those in the U.S. It was used for the first time in October 2012 in Germany with the Twitter account of a neo-Nazi group.
Twitter teamed with Chilling Effects to post the takedown notices so that activists and other interested parties could keep tabs on what was being removed from the Web in certain countries.
Those interested parties include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which wrote a blog post addressing the Pakistan censorship, commenting that it appears the requests were made by an arbitrary authority and lacked due process.
Pakistan advocacy group Bolo Bhi elaborated in its own blog post. “If there was federal authorization for these requests, then in the interest of transparency, the relevant bodies should make public the legal process followed to route these requests. Who initiated the complaint, where was the complaint made, who forwarded it and what law specifically was cited for removal” Bolo Bhi said.
“It is pertinent to highlight that Pakistan does not have cyber laws or any clearly defined policy that applies to the Internet. No specific protections exist in law that support user privacy and citizens’ right to information,” Bolo Bhi continued. “In the past, content has been blocked in an ad hoc manner. A lot of political dissent has been blocked under the garb of blocking anti-religious or anti-national content, disregarding citizens’ right to information and the need for transparency and accountability”
As the EFF noted, Twitter’s move to block content in Pakistan comes at a time when the company has no assets or employees in the country. Thus, it doesn’t have to follow blocking requests if it doesn’t want to. Of course, doing so might encourage a reaction by Pakistani authorities that could result in the blocking of Twitter at-large, which has happened in the past.
In Russia, meanwhile, Twitter censored the account of “Right Sector” (Pravy Sektor), which EFF said is “the nationalist political party characterized by the Russian government as Neo-Nazi fascists.” The micro-blogging site was complying with a Russian court order, but EFF said the decision was “disappointing.”
Like Pakistan, Twitter does not have a presence in Russia, so it could just ignore the requests, EFF said. Meanwhile, “the order isn’t even about a Russian account—it’s a Ukrainian one.”
“Worse yet, Pravy Sektor’s account is plainly political. If Twitter won’t stand up for political speech in a country where independent media is increasingly under attack, what will it stand for?” the EFF asked.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In announcing its filtering policy in 2012, the company said the move would let it “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”