India is using Twitter & Facebook as tools to silence Pakistani journalists

Do Twitter and Facebook need to revise their Indianized community policies in order to regain their credibility in Pakistan and beyond?

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Facebook has blocked live streaming of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation’s (PBC) news bulletins for “raising voice against continued atrocities, curfew and military lockdown in Indian occupied Kashmir”, Radio Pakistan announced on Monday. This is not for the first time that Facebook has taken such action. Cases of selective censorship have been rampant in Pakistan after the Indian government started a crackdown against Kashmiris and members of civil society.

In a related development, Pakistan’s prominent journalist and political commentator Nadeem F. Paracha shared in a tweet that his account was turned down for 12 hours for violating the policy.

Screenshots from back in May and July shared on the Radio Pakistan website showed a warning message from Facebook, saying that “your post goes against our Community Standards on dangerous individuals and organizations.”

The screenshots are an indication that Facebook has a history of censoring Radio Pakistan’s content — a practice it may have repeated on the broadcast of its live streaming content.

The warning, as per the screenshots shared, was given on posts that showed the picture of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Muzaffar Wani and, in another instance, mentioned a “mujahid commander Zakir Musa” in the lead-in text.

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However, Radio Pakistan, which is a part of the PBC, said today that it has made “alternate arrangements on YouTube for live streaming for its viewers.”

It is pertinent to mention that Radio Pakistan has been “highlighting the voice of the people of Occupied Kashmir, and exposing Indian brutalities and gross human rights violations at every platform including social media”.

Facebook and Twitter had earlier suspended hundreds of individuals’ accounts and removed multiple pro-Kashmir posts from Pakistan, reportedly under pressure from India.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had approached both the organizations and lodged complaints against their actions. The PTA has also established a helpline for users if they face suspension of accounts.

Notably, months ago, an Express Tribune correspondent’s Twitter account was suspended after he responded to a tweet from Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

 

According to ET, Indian government officials have admitted, on social media, to putting pressure on Twitter to suspend accounts tweeting in favor of Kashmir and against the Indian occupational regime.

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Facebook has the greatest number of fact-checking partners in India, followed by the United States, according to the Poynter Institute. The numbers, Poynter said, are a reflection of where the majority of Facebook’s users are situated. There are 250 million Indian Facebook users.

Facebook’s partners

According to Facebook, the following organizations have partnered with the social media giant for fact-checking purposes in India:

  • AFP India
  • Boom
  • Fact Crescendo
  • Factly
  • India Today Fact Check
  • Newsmobile Fact Checker
  • The Quint
  • Vishvas.News

Facebook, however, has only one partner in Pakistan as mentioned on its website: AFP Pakistan.

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A recent report published by Access Now ─ an international non-profit advocacy group dedicated to an open and free internet ─ on global internet shutdowns stated that India was responsible for a majority (67 percent) of the 196 internet shutdowns documented across the world last year.

Facebook’s crackdown against Pakistani Social media activists

On April 1st, Facebook had made the announcement and had said that the 24 pages, 57 accounts and 7 groups removed on Facebook had more than 2.8 million followers. These pages and groups, alleged Facebook, belonged to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). “Today we removed 103 pages, Groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram as part of a network that originated in Pakistan,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber-security, had said in a statement released on April 1st.

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The ISPR not only denied backing or employing the people behind pages, accounts, and groups which were removed in the exercise but has also approached Facebook to express reservations over claims that it was behind those accounts. According to sources, ISPR has expressed its reservations over the claims made by Facebook that ISPR was managing these accounts or had employed people to run these accounts.

ISPR also raised questions over Facebook’s act of removing accounts highlighting the Kashmir issue and supporting Pakistan’s armed forces’ struggle. The military’s media wing also urged the social media giant to open its office in Pakistan for a “better understanding of the situation” on the ground.

Expert opinion

Since after the Pulwama tragedy which claimed the lives of more than 40 Indian soldiers, the Indian military establishment failed to adequately run its media campaign to win the information warfare against Pakistan. Indian generals have publically confessed that Pakistan’s ISPR has remarkably done its job and defeated Indian narrative. Analysts in Pakistan argue that the current crackdown by Facebook against Pakistan’s social media activists is primarily India driven and it demands serious and careful deliberation to be dealt with.

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Dr. Moeed Pirzada, Pakistan’s prominent analyst and political commentator, tweeted and asked “how come Facebook Cybersecurity only found Pakistani ISPR linked social media teams & Congress party social media teams doing violations of its rules & no BJP or Hindutva linked teams? Has Facebook’s management been captured from inside? @fbnewsroom?

Shahid Raza, a renowned social media expert, also argued that Indians are now dominantly influencing and controlling Facebook and using it for their political interests. He also lamented that Pakistanis are still unable to comprehend the significance of these social media sites which were primarily created to use as new battlefields for cyber-warfare.

Dr. Pirzada suggested the government of Pakistan to get in touch with the Facebook administration to enhance cooperation and understand in order to safeguard the national interest of the country. Shahid Raza also suggested the same and urged the present government not to waste time and immediately make a policy and invite Facebook to build an office in Pakistan.

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