20 ‘locally illegal’ markers FB has for India include ‘Azad Kashmir, Free Kashmir, Kashmir belongs to Pakistan’: Report

Srinagar: Posts on ‘Azad Kashmir’, those defaming deities, and depictions of the Indian tricolour on any clothing below the waist — these are among 20 ‘locally illegal’ markers that Facebook has for content from India, reported the Indian Express. 

The report said that while the company insists it does not proactively block “locally illegal” content for viewers from specific countries — known as IP-blocking content — unless their legal team deems a local agency request as “valid”, these unreported India-specific guidelines show how the company still directs its moderators to flag such content for further review.

For instance, the company has stated multiple times, publicly and in meetings with the press, that its global policy does not consider speech attacking a religion or belief as hate speech even in India. However, the new findings show how the company still proactively tracks such content in India, the report said.

One of the slides in the Facebook document asks: “What is locally illegal content?” The next slide shows a diagram with three phrases: “Content doesn’t violate Facebook policy”, “Respecting local laws when the government actively pursues enforcement”, and “Facebook risks getting blocked in a country, or it’s a legal risk”.

In the section “Operational Guidelines”, the document gives moderators examples of content to flag – maps of Kashmir and Aksai Chain, posts comparing deities divisively or depicting Muhammad, and images replacing the wheel on the Tricolour with Gandhi.

Under the ‘national border’ section, posts that are “supportive” of a separate Kashmir state, of Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir and Saichen, of China’s claim to Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, or Tripura, are to be flagged.

Moderators are to look out for terms such as: “Azad Kashmir, Free Kashmir, Kashmir belongs to Pakistan… Look for maps invading territories, people protesting, etc”.

Recently, the New York Times had reported that Facebook has told its moderators to “look out for” the phrase “Free Kashmir” on its platform “urging moderators to apply extra scrutiny” on such posts.

Facebook says it is simply urging moderators to apply extra scrutiny to posts that use the phrase, the report quotes. “Still, even this could chill activism in Kashmir. And it is not clear that the distinction will be obvious to moderators, who are warned that ignoring violations could get Facebook blocked in India.”

Recently, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye had written a letter to Twitter CEO regarding the blocking of Twitter handles of Kashmiris and blocking users for sharing or posting Kashmir related content.

Both the social media giants, Facebook and Twitter have been blocking Kashmir related content lately. Recently, Facebook has, once again, censored Kashmir related content by taking down prominent page, ‘Lost Kashmiri History’, which documents past historical events, from its portal.

In a similar incident, in October, Facebook removed online Kashmir-based magazine, Wande Magazine’s page from its portal.

In the post, the founder, Irfan Mehraj, who is also the editor of the magazine, stated that, while logging into the website at 7 PM IST, he had received a notification that the magazine’s page ‘went against Facebook’s community standards’ and had been thus removed from the site.

He also said that he had been blocked by Facebook from his personal page for posting or sharing information for 24 hours. “I was not able to like, comment, share and respond to messages owing to this ban,” he wrote.

Recently, the Facebook page of Free Press Kashmir was unpublished by the social media platform for nearly 48 hours.

Recently, Facebook took down news portal Kashmir Walla’s video featuring scholar-turned-militant Mannan Wani’s father’s voice in the background.

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, some rare photographs of Mannan surfaced, and social media was flooded with content.

Over the past one year, the social media giant headed by Mark Zuckerberg has been embroiled in controversies ranging from censoring posts and user accounts in 2016, for poorly handling user account information by being susceptible to breaches or letting third parties use such information as tools for analysing voter tendencies.

A documentary series by Channel 4 Dispatches has revealed that moderators at Facebook are protectingfar-right activists by preventing their pages from getting deleted even after they violate the rules set up by the social media giant.

But in this, Facebook is not alone.

Recently, 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. 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.

Facebook came under heavy criticism after it censored content related to killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed on July 8, 2016. In the aftermath, close to 100 people were killed by the Indian armed forces in protest that spread across Kashmir. The local police raided newspaper offices and seized thousands of printed copies.

Mobile phone coverage, landlines and internet services were curbed throughout the region.

The censorship started after the internet blew up with viral images of Burhan Wani’s funeral, with users posting it as their profile picture, or simply sharing it through their accounts.

Many found their accounts blocked or even deleted, with targets including Dibyesh Anand, an academic at the University of Westminster; Huma Dar, an academic at UC Berkley and California State and Mubashir Bukhari, a journalist writing for Kashmir Monitor.

Facebook’s response to the posts being removed were that the post ‘violated community standards’ and that “one of our main priorities is the comfort and safety of the people who use Facebook, and we don’t allow credible threats to harm others, support for violent organizations or exceedingly graphic content on Facebook.”

In a statement, Facebook said: “There is no place on Facebook for content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorists organisations or terrorism. We welcome discussion on these subjects but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in context which condemns these organisations and or their violent activities. Therefore, profiles and content supporting or praising Hizbul Mujahideen and Burhan Wani are removed as soon as they are reported to us. In this instance, some content was removed in error, but this has now been restored.”

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 had said his posts about the actions of Indian armed forces, which have drawn criticism for their violent tactics, were removed more than twice.

Apart from Facebook, a clampdown pattern on journalists reporting or photographing on gunfights between militants and armed forces has erupted in the past couple of days.

Journalists covering the gunfight in Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar city had been physically assaulted and abused by the Indian armed forces near the site of the gunfight.

The journalists had been performing their professional duties when the SOG and CRPF personnel started hitting them. At least ten journalists were physically assaulted by the forces.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: List of Journalists killed and attacked in Kashmir proves otherwise

“There was no stone pelting going on,” a journalist from news agency ABP told Free Press Kashmir over the phone. “All of us were just standing there, reporting from the ground and talking to DIG Kashmir when suddenly, there was a lot of shouting by the security men and then they started beating us. My cameraman was first hit on his left elbow. While I tried to stop them, I was also beaten. The DIG tried to intervene, but they completely disregarded him. Then SP North Kashmir also started beating a few people. I’m not sure if they were journalists.”

Moreover, the images of three journalists in Kashmir being physically assaulted by the Jammu and Kashmir police and Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) surfaced two weeks back.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: Arrested journalist Aasif Sultan’s judicial remand extended till October 1

The three journalists working with Srinagar based Kashmir Walla, had reportedly been detained in Nawab Bazar area of Srinagar city. Eyewitnesses said that the forces beat them up badly and took them away in an armoured Rakshak vehicle.

As the clashes between youth and the armed forces were reported from some areas of the city, the three journalists were outside the office premises when the forces barged at them.

The three journalists had been identified as Online News Editor of the Kashmir Walla, Saqib Mugloo, Features Writer, Kaiser Andrabi and Multimedia Journalist, Bhat Burhan.

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