Afraid of a little bird

The New York Times has background on Twitter and Pakistan and “blasphemy.”

At least five times this month, a Pakistani bureaucrat who works from a colonial-era barracks in Karachi, just down the street from the former home of his country’s secularist founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, asked Twitter to shield his compatriots from exposure to accounts, tweets or searches of the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”

All five of those requests were honored by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority: crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University.

So one bozo in Karachi gets to decide for everyone in Pakistan what is “blasphemous” and must not be seen. Good system.

The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there. A number of the accounts seemed to have been blocked in anticipation of the fourth annual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on May 20.

This censorship comes as challenges to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law have become increasingly deadly, amid a flurry of arrests, killings and assassination attempts on secularists.

And Twitter chose the wrong side. Brilliant.

CFI illustrates:

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  1. Omar Puhleez says

    “So one bozo in Karachi gets to decide for everyone in Pakistan what is ‘blasphemous’ and must not be seen. Good system.”

    It must make that bozo feel omnipotent and omniscient at the very least.

    (Disclosure: I stay right away from FB, Tweeter and the rest. This just confirms the wisdom of that policy.)

  2. Al Dente says

    I stay away from Twitter, etc. myself. But there’s nothing noble in that. Thousands of Pakistanis do tweet and, because some bozo in a barracks is feeling his faith threatened, those Pakistanis cannot tweet about the bozo’s religion.

  3. says

    Can Pakistanis access VPN services in other countries? If so, the blocking provided by Twitter isn’t even really effective: if you are in Pakistan and want to access blocked twitter feeds, just switch your VPN exit-node IP address to a country that isn’t blocked. It’s incredibly easy to do–just a couple of mouse clicks and you can appear to be in the UK, or Seattle, or Romania, or almost anywhere.

    Of course, VPN’s charge a fee, so it raises the bar for access slightly, but the point I am trying to make is that since the blocks are so easily bypassed, Twitter is just taking the cowardly/easy course. They could (truthfully) tell the Pakistani government that withholding content based on destination IP address is fundamentally impossible.

  4. Hj Hornbeck says

    There’s also the Tor project, which uses fancy math to hide where you’re sending data from. It’s a much better solution than VPNs, and works pretty well on Android phones. It’s still not perfect (“hmm, this person is connecting to a Tor node…”), but short of tunneling through an open proxy via SSL I’m scrambling to come up with anything better.

  5. says

    I originally mentioned TOR in that last post, but deleted it before I posted. TOR is all but useless anymore since the number of exit nodes is so limited, and they are blacklisted by so many services. Commercial VPN’s are much better. (Disclaimer: I have no monetary interest in any commercial VPN.)

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