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Information Blackout: Facebook criticized for censoring Kashmir-related posts, accounts

Information Blackout: Facebook criticized for censoring Kashmir-related posts, accounts

Facebook has been taking down accounts and posts related Kashmir unrest, which some term as “a violation of the right to free speech”

SRINAGAR – Facebook has come under fire in recent days for suspending certain accounts on the social media platform, belonging to both native Kashmiris and foreigners present in and outside of the disputed Himalayan region.

Facebook seems to have blocked photos, videos as well as entire accounts belonging to academics, journalists and the pages of local newspapers after they posted about recent events in the disputed territory. Suspended accounts were among those who had shared photos, videos or posted comments on Kashmir unrest.

Many Facebook user accounts criticizing civilian killings or supporting Kashmir’s decades-old political struggle are being temporarily suspended or completely blocked, with their Kashmir-related posts being removed by Facebook.

With mobile phone coverage, landlines, internet services curbed and newspaper offices shut down throughout Kashmir, social media was the only crucial communication tool. However, censorship policy of social media giant, Facebook, is enkindling chaos and keeping poeple in the dark in this digital age.

“There are no papers and we only get two TV news channels,” said Zargar Yasir, a Kashmiri blogger and PhD student who said his account was blocked for more than a week

Journalists feel without credible information or access to communication channels there is an atmosphere of uncertainty in the Muslim-majority region.

Mary Scully, an American socialist activist, was outraged after her Facebook account was temporarily suspended for posting pro-Kashmiri sentiments on her timeline. “It’s a violation of the right to free speech embodied in the Bill of Rights,” Scully told Dawn.

“Facebook is obligated legally to respect the Bill of Rights and is not exempt in any way. It does not censor violent images of women but only those posts about human rights and war crimes. Facebook can have whatever reactionary politics the owners want but they cannot legally censor us in expressing ours,” she remarked. Scully, in one of her posts, had drawn parallels between Kashmir and Gaza.

After Facebook came under heat, company’s spokesperson explained: “Our Community Standards prohibit content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorist organisations 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 organisations or their violent activities.”

 Kashmiri journalists hold placards during a protest in Srinagar on Tuesday. India banned publication of newspapers in the disputed territory for three days and raided newspaper offices. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

Kashmiri journalists hold placards during a protest in Srinagar on Tuesday. India banned publication of newspapers in the disputed territory for three days and raided newspaper offices. Photo: Farooq Khan/EPA

Facebook bans Hamza Ali Abbasi and others for supporting Kashmir on Facebook

Kashmiris are not the only one whoses accounts have been suspended on Facebook, foreigners deemed as sympathisers are also in the cross hairs.

Pakistani actor and director, Hamza Ali Abbasi, found his account banned by Facebook after he posted a status in support of the deceased Kashmiri leader, Burhan Wani. While the social network restored his account later on but the post itself was taken down.

Hamza Ali Abbasi posted a status update on Facebook in support of Burhan Wani. Facebook, however, took the post down and said that it doesn’t follow the “Facebook Community Standards”. They also blocked his Facebook account, but it was re-activated later.

What’s even more shocking is that Hamza Ali Abbasi’s account isn’t the only one that has been blocked. The Guardian reports that the social network has censored dozens of posts and accounts related to Kashmir.

Dibyesh Anand, a professor Dibyesh Anand, a professor in International Relations at University of Westminster said he was blocked from posting on Facebook last week and after he complained he was told the post was accidentally removed by a member of their team.

Huma Dar, a Kashmiri academic in California, found that her profile had been deleted without warning after she posted images of Wani’s funeral. When Dar wrote to Facebook about her account being deleted, she got a response saying that her posts had “violated community standards. Dar says she’s outraged by Facebook’s decision. “I use it a lot, I post articles and papers for my students, and I run working groups for my research. Now my students and the people who use those resources can’t access any of that. I have poems that I wrote and I have long messages from friends who have now died – those correspondences are gone forever and they were very precious to me.”

Many citizens took to Twitter to protest Facebook’s information blackout:

Violence and information blackout in Indian-held Kashmir

Authorities in India’s portion of Kashmir have shut down printing presses and temporarily banned newspapers from publishing in a sweeping information blackout. Days of anti-India protests in Kashmir has left at least 44 people dead and 1600 injured.

On the 8th of July, the Indian Army killed Burhan Wani who was a prominent face of separatist sentiment in the Kashmir valley. The 22-year-old was the leader of Hizb-ul Mujahideen, a group fighting Indian control of the Muslim-majority region.

The young rebel’s killing ignited the protests in Kashmir. Since then, Kashmir has been in a state of massive unrest and the Indian government has declared an indefinite curfew.

Mobile phone coverage, landlines, and internet services have been taken down in Kashmir while there is a three-day publication ban on newspapers. In the total media blackout, social networks are the only way that people can get the news out but Facebook isn’t helping either.

Protesters clashed with the police in Srinagar on Sunday after Indian security forces killed a separatist leader, Burhan Wani. Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters clashed with the police in Srinagar on Sunday after Indian security forces killed a separatist leader, Burhan Wani. Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

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