Bangladesh plans social media ‘intervention’

In July 2018, misinformation on Facebook was blamed for triggering a violent protest in Bangladesh. (AFP file photo)
Updated 06 July 2019
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Bangladesh plans social media ‘intervention’

  • In July 2018, misinformation on Facebook was blamed for triggering a violent protest in the capital initiated by students
  • Rumors and propaganda online also intensified ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections

DHAKA: Bangladesh will introduce a social media content control system as part of its “safe Internet” campaign from September.

Dhaka has in recent months been trying to gain more control over social media tools in what it says is a bid to stop fake news. 

In July 2018, misinformation on Facebook was blamed for triggering a violent protest in the capital initiated by students. Rumors and propaganda online also intensified ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections.

In September 2012, a mob torched and vandalized a Buddhist village in the Ramu district of Cox’s Bazaar, one of the worst religious attacks in Bangladesh’s recent history, apparently triggered by a controversial Facebook posting.

“We want a safe internet and it is our duty to look after the security of the people,” Mustafa Jabbar, Posts, Telecommunication and Information Technology minister, told Arab News. “Our main goal is to stop crime on social media. From September, we hope to intervene on content uploaded on social media platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube. This means that nobody will be able to circulate anything on a whim.”

Jabbar also stressed that social media should comply with the values, standards, laws, cultures and conventional spirits of the country. 

“Our local experts have acquired the capacity to intervene on social media contents uploaded from any account, and in every organization we will have a digital security force,” he added.

In February, authorities shut down the operations of Chinese video sharing app Tik Tok for not complying with Bangladeshi law.

“Now if they want to run here again they have to comply,” Jabbar said.

However, the minister assured the public that the move had “no connection” to stifling political dissenters or the “freedom of expression” of the people.  

That has not stopped some viewing the move with suspicion.

“This is a contradictory move against the rights of freedom of expression as protected by the constitution of the country. The government should instead prepare guidelines for social media contents incorporating the opinions of different stakeholders of the society,” Amirul Islam, a lawyer and constitutional expert, told Arab News.

Nur Khan, a popular Bengali human rights activist, claimed that intervention on social media would “limit the freedom of expression” of the people.

“There is a fear that this type of intervention on social media contents might be used to stop the logical criticism on different steps taken by the government,” Khan said.

As a part of safe Internet campaign, the Bangladeshi government shut down around 22,000 pornography sites at the beginning of this year.

In February this year, it also blocked Somewhereinblog.net, the largest Bengali blogging site, and Google Books.


Twitter blocks accounts of Iranian state media outlets

Updated 21 July 2019
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Twitter blocks accounts of Iranian state media outlets

  • Twitter said the accounts harassed people linked to the Baha’i faith
  • The Baha’i faith is a religious minority that has long faced persecution in Iran

WASHINGTON: A day after Twitter suspended the accounts of several Iranian state media outlets, the social networking service said Saturday it acted after harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith.
Amid soaring tensions in the region, heightened by Iran’s seizure on Friday of a British-flagged tanker, some of the affected media outlets had speculated that the suspensions were related to their coverage of the seizure.
But Twitter cited what it said was the coordinated and targeted harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith, a religious minority that has long faced persecution in Iran.
It did not name the suspended accounts, and said it was continuing to investigate the matter.
“Account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules,” read English-language messages on each of the Iranian media outlets’ accounts.
Mehr news agency, which is close to moderate conservatives in Iran, said its Farsi-language account appeared to have been blocked late Friday following its reports on the seizure of the tanker Stena Impero in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it seized the Swedish-owned tanker for breaking “international maritime rules” in the strait, a chokepoint for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil.
Mehr’s Farsi-language Twitter page was inaccessible on Saturday, along with those of the official IRNA news agency and the agency of the Young Journalists’ Club.
“Since last night and after seizure of a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz the account of the Young Journalists’ Club and some other users have been suspended,” the YJC said on its website.
Mehr noted that its Mehr Diplomacy account, which publishes analysis and interviews on foreign policy, was also offline.
Another account taken down belonged to Ali Akbar Raefipoor, a hard-line public speaker.
None of the owners of the suspended accounts said they had been given any reason for the move by Twitter.
The micro-blogging platform is banned in Iran, but many officials still have accounts and people access them by using a virtual private network, or VPN, to bypass censorship.