May 22, 2019

Twitter Transparency Report 2018: Pakistan sought removal of 3000 accounts during first six months

ISLAMABAD, DECEMBER 14, 2018:  Pakistan sought information and removal of more than 3000 accounts from Twitter during the January-June, 2018 according to the latest Twitter transparency report. However, Twitter neither provided information nor completely removed a single Twitter account, the report claims. 

According to statistics shared in the latest report, Pakistan sought information of 54 accounts from Twitter and requested removal of 3004 accounts. The account removal requests were mainly filed by the government agencies. For the first time since Jan-Jun, 2016, three requests were submitted on the basis of court orders, according to the report.

While Twitter did not comply with account removal requests, it did remove some content from 141 accounts as they violated Twitter’s own community standards, according to the report.

However, on one occasion, Twitter  also refused to remove 79 blasphemous tweets as it did not violate its Terms of Service. “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. The reported Tweets did not violate our TOS and, therefore, no action was taken,” said the report.

Ramsha Jahangir from Dawn reports:

Talking to Dawn,  Nisar Ahmed, the director general of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for internet policy and web analysis stated that 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.

Mr. Ahmed lamented that Twitter was not removing hate material and more open towards complying requests of the Indian government “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,” he said.

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.

27000 accounts reported to Twitter worldwide: 

During Jan-Jun, 2018, governments from 38 countries sought removal of 27811 accounts from Twitter. Out of this, some content was removed from 7808 accounts for violating Twitter’s terms of service.

87% of these requests originated from Turkey and Russia, according to the report. “Turkey continued to submit the most requests, accounting for approximately 73% of the overall worldwide total,” noted the report.

Twitter also received account removal requests against 135 verified accounts of journalists and news outlets, out of which only two accounts were withheld for violating Turkey’s anti terror law.

Turkey led the countries that filed requests against journalists. According to the report: “The majority of these requests originated from Turkey, which specified 90 of these accounts.”

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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