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What Portals Need To Learn From Pakistan’s Facebook Block

Updates: The Next Web reports that the ban has been extended to Wikipedia and YouTube.

Earlier today: Yesterday, Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority blocked access to Facebook following a ruling from the Lahore High Court, reports Bloomberg. At the core of the issue is a Facebook group for ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’, asking users to send in caricatures depicting Prophet Mohammed, a practice which is not allowed in Islam, and considered blasphemous by muslims. The issue and the group owe its origin to a controversy around cartoons that had been published by a newspaper in Denmark in 2005, which provoked widespread protests and condemnation in the Islamic world, and counter arguments over freedom of speech. This Facebook group appears to push the agenda of ‘freedom of expression’ into the realm of ‘freedom to offend’. Political correctness gives some people rashes. Following the Facebook block in Pakistan, Turkish hackers have also taken down Drawmohammed.com (via Timothy Thompson). However, there’s a blog active, here.

But should Facebook have been blocked? We’re not going there: Our take on this is not a moral one – on whether it’s right to block access to offensive content. What you need to know is that as democratic and global platform as the Internet may be, access to content is still governed by the law of where the content is accessed from. You may be violating laws in a country where you have no understanding of its culture or law.

You need to work with governments and lawmakers: they are (we assume) trying to address the issue of public outrage and quieten the mob in the swifted manner possible, while trying to inflict the least amount of damage. And they’re often technologically challenged. The way this block has been implemented mirrors one instituted by India’s CERT-IN body in 2006, where they asked ISPs to block access to specific sites, for example, xyz.blogspot.com. Unable to block access to specific blogspot blogs, ISPs blocked all of it. Facebook groups are no different. Google, you might remember works with governments.

There needs to be a mechanism wherein specific content which a country deems illegal can be blocked without preventing access to the entire portal. As a portal, you need to facilitate that for government bodies. There will even be issues between the anarchy that is the Internet, and the mob-rule that is democracy. If you’re unwilling to abide by the law of that particular country, or the demands of their government, you should be prepared to exit it.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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