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Facebook VP, Nisar discuss 'removal of blasphemous content'

Updated July 07, 2017

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has met with Facebook's Vice President of Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, and discussed "various steps and actions being taken to remove blasphemous content that is illegal in Pakistan," a statement released by the Interior Ministry said Friday.

In what could be a major development regarding social media censorship in Pakistan, Nisar pointed out to Kaplan the "entire Muslim Ummah's serious concerns over the misuse of social media platforms to propagate blasphemous content", according to the statement. “Nothing is more sacred to us than our religion and our holy personalities”, the minister was quoted as saying.

This is the first time a senior member of the Facebook management has officially discussed the Pakistani interior minister's concerns. Kaplan is said to have reiterated Facebook's commitment "to remove fake accounts, explicit, hateful and provocative material that incites violence and terrorism," the interior ministry claimed.

Facebook, which has over 33 million users in Pakistan, has previously faced the interior minister's wrath, when he threatened to block all social media websites containing 'blasphemous content'.

"We appreciate the understanding shown by the Facebook administration and the cooperation being extended to us on these issues," Nisar said, according to the statement.

He also invited Facebook to open offices in Pakistan.

Kaplan, who has also served as deputy chief of staff for policy under former US president George W. Bush, is reported to have talked about Facebook initiatives which involve working with developers, small businesses and women in the country, according to the statement.

He said that Facebook’s Developers Circles have been started in Lahore and Karachi and would be launched in Islamabad soon. He identified Lahore as one of the largest Developer Circles in the world with more than 2,000 community members, the statement read.

According to the statement, "Kaplan also informed the minister that Facebook has recently launched a digital literacy campaign called iChamp ... to educate youth on the benefits and safe use of internet."

The program will be supported by Facebook’s Free Basics project that provides 'free' access to dozens of fun and learning websites, Kaplan said, according to the statement.

Facebook's Free Basics project had come under fire when introduced in India by critics who had said that the Facebook was trying to create a "walled garden" controlled by the company. India and Egypt had banned the project soon after it becoming operational since it was seen as a threat to net neutrality and an attempt to promote certain websites over others.

Nisar, however, appreciated various the initiatives taken by Facebook and observed that there was a need to further strengthen collaboration between Pakistan and the social media platform by exploring new avenues of cooperation.