Pakistan announces ‘massive’ social media crackdown

Social media users in Pakistan have frequently reported receiving warnings about unlawful content on social media. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2019
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Pakistan announces ‘massive’ social media crackdown

  • Pakistani officials said they will start a campaign against online users who spread hate speech and violence
  • Various local and international organizations criticize Pakistan's restrictions and control of media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities Wednesday vowed to carry out a "massive" crackdown targeting hate speech and extremism on social media, as a minister boasted arrests have already been made.
Officials in Pakistan are frequently accused of muzzling the media and targeting individuals critical of the country's powerful military establishment and have blocked hundreds of websites and social media accounts over the years.
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry announced the government was setting up a new enforcement arm to regulate social media during a speech in the capital Islamabad.
"We made some arrests last week and by the will of Allah we are launching a massive crackdown against social media users spreading hate speech and violence," he said.
Self-censorship in the South Asia nation is widely believed to be rife at traditional news outlets.
"Our problem is that digital media is over taking formal media so it is important for us to regulate this," Chaudhry added, saying: "Informal media is a greater problem than formal media."
The announcement comes days after authorities arrested a journalist for allegedly posting defamatory content on social media.
And on Tuesday an opinion piece in the International New York Times criticizing Pakistan's powerful army was censored by its local publisher and replaced by a blank space.
Activists and bloggers frequently report receiving warnings from Facebook and Twitter for posting unlawful content.
Local media also complained about pressure in the run-up to a general election in July to self-censor in favor of the eventual victor, cricketer-turned-prime-minister Imran Khan.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the army had "quietly but effectively, set restrictions on reporting" in a report released September last year.


Australia threatens social media execs with jail over terror images

Updated 14 min 40 sec ago
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Australia threatens social media execs with jail over terror images

  • Morrison met with a number of tech firms Tuesday, including Facebook, Twitter and Google
  • PM asked how they planned to keep their platforms from being "weaponised" by terrorists

SYDNEY: Australia warned social media giants Tuesday that executives could be jailed if they fail to quickly remove extremist material from their platforms.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with a number of tech firms Tuesday -- including Facebook, Twitter and Google -- to ask how they planned to keep their platforms from being "weaponised" by terrorists, as Canberra considers new laws in the wake of the New Zealand massacre.
Social media platforms "can get an ad to you in half a second," Morrison told reporters ahead of the meeting.
"They should be able to pull down this sort of terrorist material and other types of very dangerous material in the same sort of time frame and apply their great capacities to the real challenges to keep Australians safe," he added.
Facebook said it "quickly" removed a staggering 1.5 million videos of the harrowing viral Christchurch mosque attacks, which accused white supremacist gunman Brenton Tarrant livestreamed on the social media platform.
A 17-minute video of the March 15 rampage that claimed the lives of 50 people was widely available online and experts said was easily retrievable several hours after the attack.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the response from firms during Tuesday's meeting was "thoroughly underwhelming".
"The more important discussion we wanted to have today was how do you respond quicker, or indeed prevent the livestreaming of this type of material in the first instance? And the answers to those questions were not overly satisfactory," he said.
Porter said the government was "absolutely considering" the possibility of jail time for executives as it mulled new laws.
He warned Australian laws had "extra-territorial reach" regardless of where a company is based.
Cyber-security expert Nigel Phair, from the University of New South Wales, cast doubt over the ability of proposed Australian laws to impose jail time.
"The penalty is only for Australian domiciled executives, and on the whole they're marketing executives, not those responsible for running and maintaining the platform," he told broadcaster SBS.
Facebook said after the meeting it remained "shocked and saddened" by the Christchurch attacks.
"We are committed to working with leaders and communities in New Zealand, Australia and other countries, alongside other technology and media companies to help counter hate speech and the threat of terrorism," Facebook said in a statement.
The government has set up a task force, which includes representation from tech firms, to review possible responses to posting and spread of terrorist material online.