Last month, a member of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority asked Twitter to block specific URLS, individual Twitter users, and entire search threads because he felt they were “Un-ethical” and “Blasphemous.” Those tweets included drawings of Muhammad or suggested that people burn the koran.
To the surprise of many, Twitter complied with those requests. It led to hashtag advocacy urging the company to reconsider the censorship with supporters using the phrase #TwitterTheocracy, though there’s no way to gauge how much of an effect that had.
Yesterday, in a moment of sanity, Twitter reversed its decision:
Twitter explained the change of policy for Pakistan in a statement to the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a database maintained by eight American law schools and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where the company posts a record of every request it agrees to honor.
“We have re-examined the requests and, in the absence of additional clarifying information from Pakistani authorities, have determined that restoration of the previously withheld content is warranted,” the company said in its statement. “The content is now available again in Pakistan.”
I would call it temporary good news… yet somewhat worrisome because it suggests the censorship would’ve continued if only Twitter had received that “clarifying information,” whatever that means. Would they censor similar material if someone from the PTA requested it again? As far as I can tell, the answer is yes.
Bolo Bhi, a Pakistani civil rights group, shared that concern:
We appreciate Twitter’s decision of reexamining takedown requests and rolling back on their decision. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that twitter has launched its [Country Withheld Content] Tool in Pakistan. This is a cause of concern given the lack of clarity over Twitter’s take down mechanism and Company policy on how it examines such requests. Hopefully, the recent decision should provide the impetus for a more comprehensive policy being formulated by Companies in line with [tenets] of free-expression.
Not all groups focused on potential future abuses of the system. The Ex-Muslims of North America issued a statement in support of the reversal:
Twitter deserves recognition for standing behind the ideals of free speech, as the company has done in the past, and for taking steps to ensure transparency. We hope that Twitter’s move to increase people’s access to each other, to broadcast their voices and opinions without fear of censorship, and to stand with those who are resisting oppressive governments, will serve as a model to other social media and traditional media platforms.