November 12, 2019

Twitter to alert govt before suspending ‘official’ accounts

Image courtesy: AFP

Originally posted in: Dawn.com

Writer: Ramsha Jahangir

KARACHI: Two months after Pakistan specified about 200 accounts that were suspended by Twitter for posting content about Kashmir, the government has made headway in its negotiations on the matter with the micro-blogging website.

In August, several users complained that their accounts or tweets were suspended or withheld for posting about events in India-held 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.

The government then specified about 200 accounts that were suspended, accusing the platform of aiding India’s quest to silence Kashmiris and their supporters. The list of accounts suspended, included Twitter handles run by some government officials.

In an Aug 19 letter written to Twitter vice president, Trust and Safety, Del Harvey, National IT Board chairman Shabahat Ali Shah said that users from Pakistan were shut down without warning or prior notice.

He requested them to bring any ‘belligerent content’ to the government’s notice before suspending the account it was posted from.

He also requested Twitter 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.

“After 2 months effort, Twitter agrees on a new cadence. They will not suspend govt verified accounts without prior intimation and consultation with PK government,” Mr Shah tweeted on Wednesday.

Following his announcement, several media outlets reported that the platform had agreed it would not suspend Pakistani accounts at all or without involving the government.

Speaking to Dawn, the NITB chairman clarified his statement: “They have only [unofficially] agreed to alert us [government] on complaints received against official accounts or those specified by Pakistan authorities. Whether they suspend/withhold content is still their decision.”

He pointed out that the ‘verbal’ agreement with Twitter applied to specified accounts only and not to all Pakistani users.

Mr Shah said he would make a list of official government handles, including of spokesmen for ministers and other representatives, as well as some non-government accounts such as NGOs that the authorities claim responsibility for.

“Once the list is submitted to Twitter, they will notify us in future, when and if, one of those accounts have violated Twitter’s rules and policies. We are yet to see what we can do once a warning is received from Twitter,” said Mr Shah.

On its part, Twitter has repeatedly — in correspondence with Dawn — maintained that it enforces policies judiciously and ensures impartiality of all users, regardless of their political beliefs and country of origin.

“We are trying to engage the regional teams but we cannot influence how they moderate content because Twitter is not legally registered in Pakistan,” said the NITB chairman, adding that he had urged Twitter to open an office in the country.

According to the Director of Bolo Bhi, Usama Khilji Twitter’s ‘warning’ to the government prior to acco­unt suspensions will not change how the platform takes down content.

“Twitter removes content under its community guidelines so if there are tweets that violate it, social media company would remove that content. Considering there is no mutual legal assistance treaty between the US where Twitter is based and Pakistan, the company is unlikely to enter a special agreement with the government.”

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