Social media giants accused of “silencing” Kashmiri voices | Social Media News

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A report by a Kashmiri diaspora group accused social media giants Twitter, Facebook and Instagram of silencing Kashmiri voices in digital spaces by frequently suspending the accounts of artists, academics and journalists based in the inside and outside the disputed region. by experts as “objectionable”.

A 30-page report from Stand With Kashmir (SWK), titled “How Social Media Companies Are Enabling Silence in Kashmir,” claims that since 2017, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms have continuously reduced to silence the content related to Kashmir.

In August 2019, when the Indian government removed the region’s semi-autonomous status, it imposed a drastic shutdown of communications and the internet in the region. The shutdown lasted for months – the longest Internet suspension in a democracy, according to Access Now, an international organization that tracks Internet access around the world.

Indian security personnel stand guard along Srinagar Street on the second anniversary of the end of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy [File: Abid Bhat/AFP]

Last year, the advocacy group’s report found India topped the list of worldwide internet shutdowns among 129 countries, with 109 of 155 internet shutdowns taking place in the country.

Regarding his report, the spokesperson for SWK told Al Jazeera that “since August 2019, the level of censorship of Kashmiri voices in person but also on social networks has only increased”.

“The Kashmiris already have no way of expressing themselves in person. Social media has provided an outlet for them, ”the spokesperson said, adding that“ not only is the Indian government going after Kashmiri social media users in Kashmir, but social media companies are complicit in censorship as well. of Kashmiris by removing content, blocking important accounts that provide information and restricting the scope of content. This is unacceptable.”

“More reprehensible”

Digital rights activists have also expressed concerns about “the arbitrary removal of online content” by social media platforms.

Krishnesh Bapat, lawyer and member of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group based in the capital, New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “there is a general lack of transparency whenever the content of social media is deleted ”.

“The content is arbitrarily deleted and it is also arbitrarily restored,” Bapat said, adding, “it is very difficult to assess whether they [social media sites] do so at the request of someone else or themselves.

Geeta Seshu, co-founder of Free Speech Collective – a group that campaigns for free speech, told Al Jazeera: all the more reprehensible.

Successive governments have censored and silenced dissenting voices in Kashmir for decades, but when social media companies do too, it becomes all the more reprehensible

“Companies like Twitter and Facebook are platforms for people to express themselves and be heard, not only with those in power, but also among themselves,” said Seshu, based in Mumbai.

“If these social media companies succumb to government pressure to silence or fail to push back takedown requests, they are doing their users a huge disservice,” she said, adding that the censorship “also goes against the lawyer”. principles of these companies to provide safe spaces for conversations ”.

In his statement to Al Jazeera regarding the allegations, a Twitter spokesperson said, “Twitter’s reporting processes are designed to be transparent and allow for real accountability.

Twitter’s reporting processes are designed to be transparent and allow for real accountability

“Whenever possible, we let the user know when we receive these requests. It is important to note that, unless we are prohibited from doing so, when we remove or withhold content in a certain country, Twitter will provide a copy of the request to the publicly accessible Lumen database. When content is withheld, it is only retained in the country making the request for removal and remains visible in all other jurisdictions, ”he said.

“Edge expression”

In SWK’s online survey of 32,000 subscribers on the censorship experience, the report states that it received a response from 311 subscribers in which 62% of respondents said they had experienced some sort of censorship on the censorship. three platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The document reads: “Businesses are supporting India’s removal of digital rights from Kashmir, including the government’s blockade of internet and telecommunications access in the region, as well as its militarization of digital rights. law and policy aimed at curbing the expression of Kashmir’s political aspirations in digital. space out. “

During its six months of research, including surveys and interviews with people based in Kashmir and outside, the group found that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were censoring and crippling their spaces of expression online.

India, which has a large internet market of nearly 700 million users, announced tough rules to regulate social media content earlier this year [File: Dar Yasin/AP Photo]

The group demanded that social media companies fulfill their human rights obligations to people and be transparent about removing content.

“… User accounts have been deactivated, suspended and permanently deleted. Users reported that their account privileges were restricted or that their account content had been deleted. Users also say the platforms have offered dishonest technical reasons for censoring their accounts, ”the report says.

He said the majority of Kashmiri users felt that the platforms did not address the censorship issues they faced in an efficient and timely manner.

In October 2019, two months after the removal of Kashmir’s special status by Indian authorities, while the region was under crippling digital and military lockdown, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global media watchdog , revealed in a report that “hundreds of thousands of tweets blocked in India since August 2017” focused on Kashmir.

The report states that the vast majority of the accounts held came from the group that referred to Kashmir, hosting more than 920,000 tweets between them.

Twitter’s transparency report also found that more accounts were held in India in the second half of 2018 than in the rest of the world combined.

‘New rules’

In recent years, as internet use has become widespread in the region, social media has become an important mode of expression of opinions in the region claimed by India and Pakistan. However, they only control parts of the predominantly Muslim Himalayan territory.

The regional government has frequently ordered Internet shutdowns on the grounds that it is used to incite protests. In recent years, many users have been booked, summoned and asked about their content on social media.

Last year, two Kashmiri journalists, Masarat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, were convicted under anti-terrorism law for their social media posts. Police claimed their posts were “prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and security of India”.

India, which has a large internet market of nearly 700 million users, announced tough rules to regulate social media content earlier this year. Under the new rules, social media companies are legally required to remove posts and share information about the origin of content at the request of the government.

The rules, called the Guidelines for Intermediaries and the Code of Ethics for Digital Media, have drawn criticism from digital rights activists and raised concerns about free speech in the country.

“Restrict the reach of social media”

Mir Suhail, a New York-based Kashmiri artist who is also cited in the SWK report, accused social media companies of restricting his reach on social media.

“In early 2020, almost daily, I started receiving notifications that my Instagram posts were being deleted for hate speech or hate symbols,” Suhail, who has around 50,000 Instagram followers, said in the report.

“The same was happening on Twitter. I was drawing on different topics related to the experiences of marginalized communities in India on the experiences of Indian Muslims, the new citizenship laws and on Kashmir, ”he said.

“To this day, there is a sensitivity filter on my Twitter account for everything I post, even if it’s quite trivial. I share my work on these platforms and in doing so I trust them to be ethical in the way they manage it. “

In his statement to Al Jazeera regarding the allegations, a Twitter spokesperson said, “Twitter’s reporting processes are designed to be transparent and allow for real accountability.

“Whenever possible, we let the user know when we receive these requests. It is important to note that, unless we are prohibited from doing so, when we remove or withhold content in a certain country, Twitter will provide a copy of the request to the publicly accessible Lumen database. When content is withheld, it is only withheld in the country making the request for deletion and remains visible in all other jurisdictions, ”he said.

Facebook and Instagram did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for a response until the article was published.


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