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.