200 accounts suspended over Kashmir reported to Twitter

Updated August 20, 2019

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The government has specified to the micro-blogging site Twitter 200 accounts that were suspended in the past week apparently for posting about Kashmir, Dawn has learnt. — AFP/File
The government has specified to the micro-blogging site Twitter 200 accounts that were suspended in the past week apparently for posting about Kashmir, Dawn has learnt. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The government has specified to the micro-blogging site Twitter 200 accounts that were suspended in the past week apparently for posting about Kashmir, Dawn has learnt.

Over the last one week, a large number of Pakistanis have taken to Twitter to report that accounts were being suspended after they posted in support of Kashmir. The claim came from journalists, activists, government officials and fans of the military tweeting in support of Kashmir freedom. Simultaneously, #StopSuspendingPakistanis was trending on Twitter in Pakistan.

Earlier on Sunday, Director General of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had said the authorities had taken up with Twitter and Facebook the suspension of Pakistani social media accounts posting content in support of Kashmir.

Read: Pakistan takes up suspension of accounts 'posting in support of Kashmir' with Twitter, Facebook

“Pakistan authorities have taken up the case with Twitter and Facebook against suspending Pakistani accounts for posting in support of Kashmir. Indian staff at their regional headquarters is the reason,” he had tweeted on his personal account.

Giving details about the complaint lodged with Twitter, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media Arslan Khalid told Dawn that the Pakistan Telecommu­nication Authority (PTA) had lodged an official complaint with Twitter’s regional office on Monday.

“We are approaching this case with a multi-pronged strategy where PTA has sent the complaint mentioning [200] accounts to the regional office seeking an explanation for their suspension. We are also working on a long-term strategy through the National IT Board (NITB) so that such a situation does not arise again,” he said.

Twitter, he said, held no right to moderate political debates on its platform which were well within its community guidelines.

When asked to confirm the number of accounts specified to Twitter, the PTA said it would issue a statement on the matter soon.

A list of accounts — provided to Dawn by the focal person — reportedly suspended over Kashmir in the past week, includes Twitter handles run by some government officials as well.

One such account is of the focal person to the Punjab chief minister on digital media, Mashwani Azhar. A screenshot of Twitter’s notice to Mr Azhar purports that the platform suspended the account for impersonation.

“His account was suspended for impersonation when he was tweeting on Kashmir. Another example is of Waqas Amjab of the housing ministry. The biased behaviour of Twitter over Kashmir is ridiculous,” said Mr Khalid.

“Over 45 Twitter accounts have been suspended in the last few days and the count is increasing,” said NITB CEO Shabahat Ali Shah while speaking to Dawn.

“I have written a letter to VP of the Trust and Safety wing of Twitter on behalf of the Government of Pakistan and expressed our concern about the recent suspension of Twitter accounts in context of launching protests against Indian atrocities on Kashmir. We have also mentioned there is a potential of public outburst against suspended accounts which could put human lives in imminent danger,” he shared.

In the letter, he added, Twitter had been requested to verify government officials’ accounts. “At least government accounts should not be suspended without prior notice to the authorities. The government, too, will document content posted through official channels and review complaints lodged against them,” said Mr Shah.

“I have given them [Twitter] till Aug 23 to respond after which I will reach out to its CEO Jack Dorsey. The last step will be to write a letter, with Foreign Office endorsement, to the United Nations,” he warned.

Twitter denies bias

Twitter, however, maintains that it enforced policies judiciously and ensured impartiality of all users, regardless of their political beliefs and country of origin.

Responding to allegations of censorship and biased moderation on its platform, a Twitter spokesperson told Dawn that they were founded on the principles of free expression and there was no political bias in its content review teams that determine what content is considered a violation of its rules.

“We believe people on all sides of an issue have a fundamental right to discuss them within the boundaries of our policies, which prohibit terrorism, hateful conduct, platform manipulation, and abuse. At Twitter no one is above our rules.”

Unlike Facebook, which has the greatest number of fact-checking partners in India, Twitter is yet to introduce policy on political misinformation. “Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, including in national and regional events of political importance,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson did not comment on the reasons that led to certain accounts — specified in the email — being suspended. “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons,” the official said.

Twitter did not deny or acknowledge the spike in government requests from India or Pakistan following the development on Kashmir.

Interestingly, Twitter’s compliance with requests from the Indian government has improved in the recent past. For the 422 information requests from India between July-Dec 2018, there was 18pc compliance from Twitter. Out of the 667 account removal requests, the platform withheld 95 accounts and 141 tweets.

For Pakistan, however, Twitter has declined all requests for account information and removal as per the latest transparency report (July-Dec 2018).

“Twitter needs to issue a statement explaining its moderation process. There is no transparency on why certain tweets on Kashmir are in violation of its rules and how it decides to restrict content on its platform,” said Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation while speaking to Dawn.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019