Google’s internal briefing reveals ‘majority of online conversations controlled’
Srinagar: Social media giant Facebook in Indian part of Kashmir has started a clamp down on news pages and accounts for publishing and sharing the photographs of scholar-militant Dr Mannan Wani.
Mannan Wani along with his associate Ashiq Hussain Zargar of Tulwari Langate were killed in a gunfight with the Indian armed forces in the Shatgund area of Handwara town.
Mannan being a Phd scholar rose to fame after he joined Hizb ranks in January this year. After his killing, Facebook in Kashmir was flooded with his photographs. Some rare photographs of Mannan surfaced shortly after his killing, with social media being flooded with content.
Facebook users shared extensively the funeral video of Manan Wani that was watched by millions of netizens.
Since the past couple of days, Facebook India has blocked multiple news pages and personal accounts of users for the same.
Kashmir News Trust which has more than five lakh hits was blocked for 30 days for posting the funeral video of Dr Mannan Wani. Global Kashmir another news page account was also blocked for posting a photograph of Wani.
“Some news pages were even unpublished by facebook India. This is not the first time when facebook India has come down heavily on netizens in Kashmir Valley. In 2016, hundreds of fb pages were either unpublished or blocked for posting the photographs of Hizb poster boy Burhan Wani,” said a Kashmiri Facebook user “unnerved by the clampdown on free speech”.
Another user said that the news pages in Kashmir with hits in lakhs are more vulnerable. “One thing is clear that social media in Kashmir is not free. You can’t depict the reality. How can a photograph of Manan Wani pose a threat? Why facebook in India is not allowing users in Kashmir to express themselves freely if it claims to be the greatest democracy of the globe.”
Censoring ‘anti-government’ content online is not a new thing. Activists, journalists, free thinkers, rationalists have faced a ‘blockage’ every time they have expressed their views on social media platforms. Either their social media pages are brought down or they just start featuring less and less on people’s timelines.
How does that happen?
An internal company briefing produced by Google and accessed by Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition” of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.
The briefing titled the ‘Good Censor’, admits that Google and other tech platforms now “control the majority of online conversations” and have undertaken a “shift towards censorship” in response to unwelcome political events around the world.
The briefing labels the ideal of unfettered free speech on the internet a “utopian narrative” that has been “undermined” by recent global events as well as “bad behavior” on the part of users.
It acknowledges that major tech platforms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter initially promised free speech to consumers. “This free speech ideal was instilled in the DNA of the Silicon Valley startups that now control the majority of our online conversations,” says the document.
One such conflict zone which braves this online control is Indian Administered Kashmir. The Google Censor document mentions that ‘Facebook and Twitter were implicated in governmental censorship of clashes between rebels and Indian authorities in Kashmir.’
“The platforms removed posts and suspended accounts about the events, including images of rebel Burhan Wani’s funeral, highlighting the platforms’ complicity with government censorship as they attempted to stay on the right side of global authorities,” the report says.
The report also mentions that ‘online political interference is on the increase’.
Online manipulation and disinformation influenced elections in more than 18 countries in 2017, including the US. Despite having a more vibrant and diverse online environment than most, disinformation and hypertension content are having a bigger impact.”
Further, the leaked document says that Governments are also trying to tighten their grip on political discourse by asking Google to censor more and more content. “50.6% of these requests relate to YouTube and 19.8% to Search.”
Facebook censoring Kashmir related content and profiles is not new. Facebook had censored dozens of posts and user accounts in 2016. Academics, journalists and the pages of local newspapers are among those who have had photos, videos and entire accounts deleted by Facebook after they posted about recent events in Kashmir.
Facebook in its defence has maintained, “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.”
The Washington Post had reported that the account of Arif Ayaz Parrey, an editor with an environmental magazine in New Delhi, was disabled for more than a day. Parray administered the Facebook account of a discussion group called the Kashmir Solidarity Network, whose page was also removed.
Professor Dibyesh Anand of London’s Westminster University said his posts about the actions of Indian armed forces, which have drawn criticism for their heavy-handed tactics, were removed more than twice.
Mary Scully was censored in 2016 too. Scully had told The Daily Mail that her posts were also removed on more than one occasion, citing community standards.
She and Anand along with others had started a petition urging Facebook to investigate.
Not only people, organisations have been censored as well. In July 2017, Kashmir Ink, which is a sister publication of the leading Kashmiri newspaper Greater Kashmir, found its Facebook page blocked when it did a cover story ‘Kashmir: A year after Burhan’s death’, on the anniversary of the killing of Kashmiri militant leader Burhan Wani.
To read the whole leaked document, click here.
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