The biggest issue when you are running a global company is that you have to mould yourself and address the sensibilities of every single country out there. Facebook, with its 1 Billion plus users that are spread across the globe, is no exception to this rule and has often found itself mired in controversies due to the same. The company is now drawing the ire of conservatives including those within the Pakistani government.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has threatened to get the social media network blocked in the country if it fails to comply with the rules and regulations pervading the country. Commenting upon the fact that there were a lot of supposedly blasphemous activities going on over the social media platform, Khan said that he won’t hesitate to take strong action against the platform.
If we do not get a response from social media, I do not care about anyone, there is nothing greater than our faith. If social media and especially international social media stays on this route, then we will have to take strong action regarding social media.
Although he failed to specify what form this action will take.
Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan and it isn’t something you want to be even remotely accused of doing. Mere rumors of the same have been enough to spark off deadly riots and clashes in the country. An idea about exactly how sensitive the topic is, can be had from the fact that Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 by one of his own guards, after he tried to defend a Cristian woman who was sentenced to death because of alleged blasphemy.
Government laws regarding the same are very strict as well and people convicted of breaking associated laws stand to face the death penalty under law. However, right wing activists have also blamed the Pakistani government of misusing the laws to force criticism off the rails.
Facebook certainly wouldn’t want to lose Pakistan. Its platform is the most popular social networking portal in the country and has anywhere between 25 to 30 million users. That is a pretty large number of customers to lose in one stroke. However, it will be interesting to see if Facebook agrees to limit the freedom of expression it offers to its users. The company has complied with the government’s requests in the past, so it will probably continue doing so.
Based on legal requests from the Pakistan Telecom Authority, we restricted access to content for allegedly violating local laws prohibiting blasphemy, desecration of the national flag, and condemnation of the country’s independence.
Considering that Facebook has always complied with the requests made to it by the government authorities, these tough talks by the government could also be part of some inspired thinking aimed towards wooing conservative votes before the elections.
Meanwhile, the judiciary is stepping in now as well. Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui said that come March 27, the court would take a decision about whether social media websites in Pakistan that are alleged to be distributing blasphemous content, should be banned or not.