At first glance, Twitter’s international policy on censorship seems reasonable. If the laws of a particular country require content to be locally blocked, then Twitter will adhere to that, deeming it to be a lesser evil than having the social network blocked in its entirety. This is what’s just happened in Pakistan, where five requests from a government office have, for the first time, resulted in “blasphemous” and “unethical” tweets being blocked to Pakistani users. However, critics say that, in practice, Twitter’s policy isn’t working fairly because it’s giving too much power to would-be censors who don’t actually have any authority to block or delete content.
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. 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.