Image courtesy: Facebook.com
Last week Gharidah Farooqi, a renowned Pakistani journalist, shared an email that Twitter sent her stating that India had reported some of her tweets regarding Kashmir. This provided confirmation to previous conjecture that the Indian government was working actively to get content on Kashmir or accounts tweeting about Kashmir blocked on Twitter.
As Kashmir remains a dispute between Pakistan and India, the support for Kashmir from Pakistan and the criticism of India’s decision and actions by Pakistanis were soon mass-reported on Facebook and Twitter, resulting in over 200 Twitter accounts being suspended, and many users being issued a warning.
The suspension of these 200 accounts was considered by many an attempt by the Indian government to extend its effort to control information coming out from the region. Since the repeal of Article 370, human rights violations and atrocities by the Indian government in Jammu & Kashmir, despite being denied by state officials, have been reported on by the media. The Indian government’s attempt to control the flow of information in and out of the region was furthered by the total communication blackout across Kashmir.
The email sent to Farooqi is part of Twitter’s regular transparency procedure to inform users that their accounts or tweets were reported. It also mentioned that because the tweets did not violate Twitter Rules, no action had been taken at that point. However, interestingly the email stated that it’s sent when Twitter receives “a legal request from an authorised entity (such as law enforcement or a government agency) to remove content from their account”, confirming that it was indeed reported by the Indian authorities.
Sadaf Khan, the co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy, says, “Since anyone can report a tweet, it wasn’t clear whether the suspension of Twitter accounts was in fact backed by the Indian government. Twitter’s notice to Gharida is a confirmation that a government is involved in violating the right to free speech and information of not only the Kashmiris, but also anyone who presents facts or contradictory narrative.” She adds, “The mass-suspension of accounts was worrying in itself, but to have the confirmation that it could in fact be supported by the Indian government is more alarming as it can exert pressure on social media companies to retain their local presence in India.”
Further, this highlights Twitter’s lack of transparency when it comes to content moderation. Twitter latest transparency report suggests that while there was no compliance regarding the content information and removal requests received from Pakistan, India’s content information and content removal requests were complied with at 18% and 2% rate respectively.
And even though it can’t be said for sure why the difference in compliance exists, or what kind of content was reported from both India and Pakistan, Sadaf says, “Twitter has more business in India than in Pakistan, and in order for them to keep generating that business they have to comply with the government requests and orders. This is not the case in Pakistan since the user base here is considerably low.”
Media Matters for Democracy reached out to Twitter for comment on their content moderation policy in times of crisis like in Kashmir right now, and received a generic “on record” statement,
“Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, including in national and regional events of political importance. We are founded on the principles of free expression and believe people on all sides of an issue have a fundamental right to discuss them within the boundaries of our policies, which prohibit terrorism, hateful conduct, platform manipulation, and abuse. At Twitter no one is above our rules. We enforce our policies judiciously and impartially for all users — regardless of their political beliefs and background.”
The Pakistani government also sent Twitter a letter asking about the 200 accounts that they say have been blocked or suspended for tweeting about Kashmir. Twitter has yet to publicly acknowledge or respond to the Pakistani government’s request.
Shmyla Khan, Program and Research Manager at the Digital Rights Manager, says, “There seems to be a glaring disconnect between the policies and guidelines of social media companies, such as Twitter, and their application to cases. It is apparent that a pattern of unjustified take-downs and account suspensions of overwhelmingly Pakistani, or Pakistan-based, users; these generalised policies are inadequate when when there is evidence of clear discrimination in the application of those policies.” She adds, “The fact that content relating to the rights of Kashmiris, especially at a time when they cannot speak up on social media due to the communications blackout in Indian-occupied Kashmir, is being framed as hateful or terrorist content indicates that there is something deeply flawed with the AI and human monitoring taking place within these social media companies.”
Shmyla believes that instances of mass reporting of these accounts posting about Kashmir speak to a susceptibility of these platforms to manipulation, and says, “for Twitter to live up to its own rhetoric of free speech they must recognize that mistakes are being made and changes need to take place to both the technological and policy level.”
Hija is a Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She combines her experience in digital rights in Pakistan to lead digital rights and internet governance advocacy of MMfD. She tweets at @hijakamran