KARACHI: The total number of accounts reported by Pakistani authorities to Twitter for alleged offences like “spreading hate material” and “inciting violence” shot up to over 3,000 in the first six months of this year, according to a biannual report of the social networking website.

The website’s transparency report released on Thursday said that between January and June this year the government sent requests for removal of 243 accounts and reported 3,004 profiles to Twitter. Of the profiles specified, some content was removed from 141 accounts for violating Twitter’s terms of service (TOS).

Last year, there were only 75 removal requests between July and December, and 674 accounts were reported to Twitter.

Minister says complaints of accounts are sent to social networking website for ‘spreading hate material’ and ‘inciting violence’

Interestingly, unlike last year when all requests were sent by the government and law enforcement agencies, in 2018 three requests for account removal were sent through court orders.

In terms of information requests for accounts, Pakistan made such requests for 22 accounts and specified 54 this year as opposed to 24 information requests and 25 accounts specified last year.

Twitter, however, declined all the requests for account information and removal.

Explaining the reasons for not taking action on content reported by government authorities, Twitter said: “We received a legal demand from the Pakistani government specifying 79 tweets for violations of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA). The majority of the tweets contained depictions and caricatures of Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]. The reported tweets did not violate our TOS and, therefore, no action was taken.”

“If you look at the compliance rate for India and other countries, Twitter has responded to authorities positively. But when it comes to Pakistan’s requests, it does not comply in the interest of the state,” said Nisar Ahmed, the director general of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for internet policy and web analysis.

According to Mr Ahmed, a majority of the reported accounts were specified for propagating anti-state and propaganda content. “The number of accounts reported is so high because propaganda accounts operate in dozens and are often created shortly before an [online] campaign goes viral,” he said, adding that the authority selects a chain of such accounts and reports them to Twitter.

He pointed out that in Pakistan only PTA was allowed to report (to Twitter) and block content as per the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act-2016 (Peca). He added that besides the public, the authority received requests from 30 stakeholders, which included the Federal Investigation Agency, law enforcement agencies, ministries, and home departments of all the provinces.

Earlier this year, the authorities threatened to block Twitter if the company did not remove content the government found offensive. “We need Twitter to entertain requests in accordance with Pakistan’s laws like Facebook to help us stem propaganda,” he added.

Speaking to Dawn, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the Twitter report reflected the true picture. The government, he said, had recently reported a high number of accounts to Twitter for “spreading hate material” and “inciting violence”.

“We also reported a significant number of accounts during the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s protests for inciting violence,” he said.

Underlining the need for an international regulatory body for social media, the minister said the government was holding talks with social media companies to formulate regulatory mechanisms. “During my recent trip to the UK, I got a positive response from Facebook and Twitter and further negotiations are in progress,” he added.

Global trends

The Twitter’s latest transparency report shows that the company received approximately 80pc more global legal demands this year, impacting more than twice as many accounts as the previous reporting period. Similar to the last reporting period, roughly 87pc of the total global volume originated from only two countries: Russia and Turkey. Turkey continued to submit the most requests (13,843), accounting for about 73pc of the total.

After Turkey and Russia, Pakistan has the highest number of accounts specified for the given period.

Twitter received legal demands specifying 27,811 accounts from 38 different countries, including Oman and Panama, which appeared for the first time. “We first review all reported content in each demand for TOS violations, which resulted in some content being removed from Twitter on 7,808 accounts,” the platform said.

Twitter also suspended a total of 205,156 accounts for promotion of terrorism during the period under review.

It pointed out that during the reporting period, 135 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets were the subject of legal demands.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2018


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