See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Is Twitter aiding India’s quest to silence Kashmiris?

The prospect of internet censorship looms.

Written by

Updated: September 2, 2019

The spectre of an internet clampdown has once again reared its ugly head. This time though, the perceived cause is the social media companies — the digital gatekeepers who rally behind the idea of free expression for all.

In the past few weeks, several users have complained that their accounts or tweets were suspended or withheld for posting about events in India-held Kashmir. The Pakistan government specified about 200 accounts that were suspended to Twitter, accusing the platform of aiding India’s quest to silence Kashmiris and their supporters.

Among the many people whose accounts have been reported recently, President Arif Alvi also received a notice from Twitter alerting him on a complaint it received requesting for removal of his tweet on Kashmir. Although Twitter did not find the tweet to be in violation of its rules and took no action, its content moderation policy [or the lack of it] has come under intense scrutiny.

On its part, Twitter has repeatedly — in correspondence with Dawn — maintained that it enforces policies judiciously and ensures impartiality of all users, regardless of their political beliefs and country of origin.

Users have said their accounts have been suspended or withheld for posting about events in valley

However, it does not comment on the reasons that allowed certain accounts or tweets being censured.

To fully understand the extent of Twitter’s opaque moderation policies, let us review how its content withheld tool has been used in Kashmir’s context.

The content withheld tool allows governments or authorised entities to request Twitter to censor content on a country by country basis. The Pakistan government, too, has often used the tool against journalists and activists, who have in the past year shared similar legal notices from the platform.

Twitter says it provides transparency through a combination of efforts. This includes providing direct notice of removal requests to affected users (when not otherwise prohibited), the use of visual indicators within the service (an alert showing withheld content), and by publishing the underlying legal demands (e.g court orders) on Lumen, which serves as a public repository for content removal requests.

A list of legal requests from the Indian Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology on Lumen suggests that all of the censured accounts belonged to Kashmiri users or those posting in support of the cause. The Indian government cited Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 against tweets it said were in violation of its law. The reported content was then withheld from access in India.

The more problematic aspect is that the database does not include all legal requests sent by India. Since Aug 14, according to the database, India sent six legal requests. Evidence shared by users of the platform with Dawn indicates otherwise. One such example is the legal request sent to journalist Arshad Sharif, which is not uploaded on the database.

Twitter’s inconsistency and inaction on its own rules thus not only creates a level of mistrust and lack of confidence in the company’s reporting process, it also sends the message that Twitter does not take the region’s politics seriously.

Another issue allowing the Indian government to control access to information is the lack of human moderators at Twitter that enable platform manipulation.

In the past weeks, many Pakistani celebrity accounts have been suspended for ‘impersonation’.

A Dawn analysis revealed that a network of accounts — ETF Associates and BMJ Youth to name a few — were involved in mass reporting Pakistani accounts leading to their suspension.

The ETF_RW account was created in June 2016 and had reported over 339 accounts in 2019 alone. One of the accounts it got suspended had a whopping following of 90,000 users. The BMJ Youth account was created rather recently (January 2019) but still managed to report prominent accounts, such as the handle of focal person to the Punjab chief minister on digital media, Mashwani Azhar who is followed by over 33,000 people.

The two accounts have now been suspended by Twitter, but more similar networks propped up soon after.

Users posting about Kashmir have also complained that they have been ‘shadow banned’ by Twitter. Shadow banning, as the platform defines it, is deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.

Others, particularly Indian users, have also reported that their tweets in support of Kashmir are marked as “sensitive content” on the platform which means it will not be visible unless someone clicks on it.

Twitter has refuted the accusations outright. “We do not shadow ban. And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology,” it claims. It does not elaborate further.

And that’s where the problem lies; the platform when confronted with questions of how it decides what permissible speech is online provides brief policy statements, rather than taking the opportunity to provide their users with more details about how they control the content.

While Twitter has its share of problems, to blame its opaque moderation for non-compliance to Pakistan would not be entirely correct.

To hold Twitter accountable is a process beyond emotive, reactionary statements. With over 34 million users, a local presence and a revenue making industry that is India, Pakistan (with nearly a million users) must consider whether digital collaboration is among its long-term priorities.

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

South Korea and Japan have more in common than they think

Republished with permission for Asia News Network members by The Brookings Institution. With South Korea’s decision to scrap the 2016 military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, the two sides have dramatically aggravated their fraught relationship. Bilateral ties had never been great, but in the past several weeks, a trade spat has snowballed into a confrontation that apparently has yet to reach rock bottom. Last month, Tokyo decided to remove South Korea from its list of favored trading partners, which includes the United States, Germany, France, and two dozen other countries, placing export curbs on industrial and high-tech p

By Asia News Network
September 16, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Can Global Exchanges work?

Andrew Sheng for Asia News Network. HKEx’s (0388.HK) audacious $32 billion bid for London Stock Exchange Group (LSE.L) raised quite a few eyebrows on 9/11.   Three immediate questions were raised by the bid.   First, does the bid make sense for shareholders on a commercial basis?  Second, what are the strategic considerations for Hong Kong and global financial markets?  Third, what are the regulatory and geopolitical hurdles? My own policy is never to make any predictions on the prices or viability of any commercial deal but to let facts speak for themselves.   At present prices, HKEx is the third largest listed exchange in the world with a market cap of $40 billion, larger than the LSE ($31 billion) but smaller than the CME Group ($77 billion) and the Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE, $53 billion).   The fact that the LSE share price rose slightly after the bid announcement but remained lower th

By Asia News Network
September 16, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

The foreigner who stoked political chaos in Malaysia

For Asia News Network Editor’s Circle by Chong Lip Teck of Sin Chew Daily. Controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik is on the wanted list in India due to his extreme religious remarks and alleged involvement in money laundering. Many Muslim countries have denied him entry. But in Malaysia, he is well received by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. Within the coalition, however, there is a split because of him. The ground sentiment is also divided into two, on  racial and religious lines. One side has defended him while the other side asked for his repatriation. As a Muslim preacher, Zakir Naik is popular in the Muslim community. He has his charm. While promoting Islam, he would  downgrade other religions, especially the Hindus and Christians. But, as a guest in Malaysia, he has crossed the red line. If he is merely promoting Islam, no one is against him. But he insults other religions in his sp

By ANN Members
September 16, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Hong Kong tourism arrivals plunge 40 per cent, most since Sars crisis

By Bloomberg as it appears in the Straits Times. The ongoing protests in Hong Kong, now in their 15th week, have delivered a blow to the city’s tourism industry not seen since the 2003 Sars epidemic. Tourist arrivals in the city declined almost 40 per cent in August from a year earlier, Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog post on Sunday. That’s the biggest year-on-year decrease in visitor numbers since May 2003, when arrivals sank almost 70 per cent in the midst of the disease outbreak that ultimately claimed hundreds of lives in the city, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “Social issues in the past few months, especially the continued violent clashes and blockading of

By The Straits Times
September 10, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Thailand fares badly in business digitalisation: UNCTAD

Singapore and South Korea tops the charts. Singapore and South Korea top the charts when it comes to companies receiving orders online, the Digital Economy Report 2019 released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows. According to the report launched a few days ago, more than 60 per cent of small firms and close to 80 per cent of large firms in Singapore received orders over the internet last year.     Thailand, however, is close to the bottom of the chart, with less than 10 per cent of small firms and only about 20 per cent of large firms receiving online orders in the same year. Even Indonesia did better in comparison. The report suggests that in most developing countries, there is con

By The Nation (Thailand)
September 6, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Nepal feels the heat of the cooling Indian economy

While there is a legitimate fear of the slowing growth having trickle-down effects, Nepal may benefit in the short term. The Indian economy may be nearing a recession if the current ‘crippling slowdown’ doesn’t reverse course. India’s gross domestic product quarterly growth rate for April-June 2019 was only 5 percent, the lowest on yearly comparison for the quarter in six years. It was the first quarter of India’s fiscal year 2019-20. The 5 percent growth rate compared to other developed economies, among which the best performers are barely touching 3 percent, is no way dismal in itself. The only one among the top ten economies of the world that is expected to grow faster than India is China with 6.2 percent, which also is a downward revision from the 7 percent previously estimated. However, there are numerous concerns regarding the Indian scenario. The world is gripped by the fea

By The Kathmandu Post
September 4, 2019