Facebook accused of Kashmir censorship

Social media giant Facebook has been accused of employing wide ranging censorship by removing numerous pages and posts related to killings, human rights violations and violence in Kashmir.
Facebook accused of Kashmir censorship
Representational Pic

Social media giant Facebook has been accused of employing wide ranging censorship by removing numerous pages and posts related to killings, human rights violations and violence in Kashmir.

At times people have found that posting of real news too makes them liable to censorship. "I had uploaded a video describing human rights violations in Kashmir. It was a true news report and got around 3000 shares," said Iqbal, a tech entrepreneur working in New Delhi. "Suddenly in the morning I found my account disabled and the video removed too. Citing violation of community guidelines Facebook demanded my ID proof before enabling my account."

Some pages were altogether deleted. Be it a page in the name of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani or ROFL Kashmir, nobody was spared the brunt of censorship. Both pages have moved to Instagram and Twitter to continue posting.

Facebook had been particularly taking action against anybody uploading Burhan Wani's pictures and videos along with some description. "Our FB page has been deleted by Facebook for sharing the image of Burhan Wani. It didn't meet their community standards," wrote Hurriyat (G) on Twitter after their page was pulled down. 

"It seems they had inked a pact with Government of India to try to eliminate the legacy of Burhan," said a page administrator who had posted a picture wherein a child was shown kissing a poster of Burhan Wani. Facebook removed the picture and disabled the page for 24 hours.

Journalists, rights activists, filmmakers and students had to face the brunt. "On ground Government snapped the phone connectivity, blocked internet and muzzled newspapers and on social media Facebook did the equivalent job," said a social media user. A number of users alleged that the social media giant failed to discriminate between reality and dangerous content.

The posts criticizing action of police and CRPF in Kashmir too came under scrutiny. Two such posts published by Professor Dibyesh Anand of London's Westminster University were briefly removed by Facebook. "They (Facebook) apologised. But they blocked a second time within a day, again for 24 hours for a mild post," Anand was quoted by AFP from London. "When a conspicuous number of posts relating to Indian state violence in Kashmir get removed by Facebook and profiles of academics and writers blocked, it is clear that there is censorship."

Kashmir Solidarity Group, which often posts and discusses news articles and is managed by Non Resident Kashmiris was also removed for few days and the profiles of its administrators were also disabled.

The viral anti-pellet campaign created by Pakistani rights group barely escaped the censorship. As the campaign was shared more than one lakh times, Facebook put a survey underneath the post asking users whether they want to see it or not. The page admins termed the survey as a tactic employed by Facebook to pull down the campaign.

Some of the known persons who found themselves at the receiving end of Facebook include filmmaker Sanjay Kak, political commentator Ather Zia, University of California, Berkley scholar Huma Dar, journalist Satyadeep Deep, Arif Ayaz Parrey and Parvez Bukhari, Anthropologist Mohammed Junaid, US based rights activist Marc Scully, Pakistani actor Hamza Ali Abbasi and others.

Scully initiated a petition on change.org asking Facebook to stop censoring content.

"None of the posts removed have violated Facebook's community standards of hate speech or incitement to violence but have only portrayed the violence being perpetrated against the Kashmiri people," the petition states.

Junaid while describing his experience said that his account and accounts of others who post about Kashmir were blocked at a critical time of communication blockade in Kashmir. "Isn't it time Facebook explains which posts on my wall constitute violation of "Community Standards"?" said Junaid.

A Facebook spokesman in India was quoted by Washington post as saying "our Community Standards prohibit content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorist organizations or terrorism, and we remove it as soon as we're made aware of it. We welcome discussion on these subjects but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in a context which condemns these organizations or their violent activities."

Off late social media has become most favoured avenue of expression news gathering for youths in Kashmir. According to a report cited by Telegraph, the accessibility to social media (in the Kashmir Valley) has skyrocketed from 25 per cent in 2010 to 70 per cent in 2015. At a time when people accuse Delhi-based media of showing bias against Kashmir, people particularly youth have turned to social media to get to the reality and express their views.

According to independent estimates the number of posts blocked by Facebook runs into thousands and many users preferred their accounts to be disabled permanently as they were reluctant to provide identification documents to Facebook for verification.

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