November 21, 2018

Protest against Asia Verdict:  How social media giants censored online hate speech?

ISLAMABAD: In the face of rising instances of online hate speech lately, social media giants have been hard at work in taking down hateful content from their platforms.

Online hate speech spiked in the midst of protests against the Supreme Court verdict of acquitting blasphemy accused Asia Bibi.  Members and supporters of different religious groups especially Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan,TLP, had been allegedly involved in sharing incendiary messages online.

Apparently, the response from Twitter was slow. It took a sustained campaign from journalists and activists to convince Twitter to suspend TLP Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Twitter account for violating “Twitter Rules.”  Earlier, the Minister for Human Rights claimed that their request to suspend Mr. Rizvi’s account was declined by Twitter.

On the other hand, Facebook claims that it has been actively taking down hateful material. Talking to Digital Rights Monitor, a Facebook spokesperson shared that in the weeks leading up to the Asia Bibi verdict, they undertook several measures.

“We proactively identified and removed content that advocated for violence against Bibi and those involved in her case. This included blocking certain hashtags and reviewing content and accounts associated with these hashtags, removing and preventing the re-sharing of videos that call for violence against these individuals, and removing accounts for repeatedly breaking our rules,” the Facebook representative shared.

Given the delicacy of the situation, Facebook did not wait for the government request to censor content. Instead, it took the initiative in banning “several dangerous individuals and organizations, per our policies.”

The Facebook representative added: “This means we banned these leaders and organizations from having a presence on Facebook, and we do not allow any content that praises or supports them. Our work included detecting and removing recidvist accounts.”

Pakistan has a huge population of internet users around 50 million and increasing every year. As more people join online, policy makers are concerned about the use of online mediums to spread hate speech and incite violence against a community. Mindful of this, Pakistan’s cyber-crime law, Section 11, also has punishment for online hate speech according to which a person may be imprisoned for seven years or fined or both.

However, digital rights activists find the law problematic as it fails to define specifically “hate speech.” They fear that this can be used to punish dissent.

Written by

Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.

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