Pakistan Facebook Ban: The Ban That Backfired

Photo By AP

First Appeared On The Dawn Blog

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post regarding the “Draw A Muhammad Day” controversy, highlighting the role of the social networking site Facebook. Let me begin by sharing some of the comments, Tweets and Facebook messages submitted in reaction to my last post (with the saner ones up top):

I have deactivated my Facebook account today, and I requested all my friends to deactivate their accounts on 19th May till 21st may to protest against this group. We demand the Facebook Team to remove the group “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” as soon as possible otherwise we will not use Facebook.

Here’s another:

To all those sending requests to join groups like 1) boycott Fb on 20th may 2) Leave fb and join twitter 3) create groups …to stand up against Prophet drawing day, is this the way to ‘counter’ those insults? In fact, we too, including me, insult our Prophet by not following his teachings! There are better ways to counter it, and you all know it.

And a third, of many:

Would banning of Facebook as a social networking forum by all the Muslims be the answer? I mean if it’s all Muslims it can hit them hard, their freedom of speech our freedom of choice.

There we have a few suggestions on how to pressurise Facebook by leading a mass deactivation campaign. Indeed, a plethora of counter groups condemning the campaign proposed a mass deactivation campaign as a reaction to Facebook’s failure to remove the offending page.

But by Tuesday night, the PTA had blocked access to the campaign’s fan page on account of it containing hate speech and blasphemous content. While discussions broke out questioning the block and whether it would hurt the campaign itself, the worse was still to come. Yesterday, in accordance with the decision of Lahore High Court, the PTA implemented a ban on social networking website until May 31 (isn’t it ironic that the LHC decided to take an immediate and strict stance on a matter like this as compared to the thousands of pending cases in more pressing matters)? The question arises: does a countrywide ban on Facebook ‘officially’ serve as condemnation? Is this the best possible way to counter the hate speech?

Facebook has expressed disappointment at the site’s banning in Pakistan, and is considering the possibility of blocking the offensive page within the country. That means the campaign page has still not been removed and can continue to be accessed (except from Pakistan). The hate speech on its discussion boards and various comics depicting Muhammad will remain on the site. But just because we cannot see it doesn’t mean it no longer exists.

It’s important at this point to clarify exactly what is offensive about the campaign, and for Pakistan to articulate what it is trying to achieve by banning several websites. If the main issue is “Draw A Muhammad Day,” then how is banning Facebook hurting the campaign? The Facebook forum is not the same as the campaign itself. The “Draw a Muhammad Day” website can still be accessed in Pakistan, and it has been updated with news on the campaign and some initial pictures. If anything, the outrage and the ban has served as a PR campaign for the event.

Meanwhile, on Facebook itself, more than 41,000 users joined one page dedicated to the “Draw A Muhammad Day” event, and another 4,400 users ‘liked’ a similar page. On the other hand, 56,000 users joined a Facebook page to oppose the campaign.

What we have here is an enraged audience condemning the hate mongering, but the counter-argument seems to be losing its sense of direction. Now, in the wake of the LHC ban, condemnations are being hurled against Facebook, rather than the campaign itself. The fact is, the failure of Facebook to remove the page doesn’t suggest its alliance or support of the campaign. The only thing Facebook can be accused of is remaining indifferent to its users concerns. But, I repeat, this has nothing to do with the campaign, Islam, Muslims, or hate speech.

As I write this, news is coming in that Blackberry services have been suspended across the country by the PTA in an extension of the LHC order to block Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, and YouTube. Rumour has it that Gmail will also be shut down. What’s next? Are we moving towards implementing a ban on the internet too?

The result of this banning spree is that the last thing most Pakistanis care about now is the issue of inciting hatred, and crafting an effective response to hate speech. Instead, we are now concerned about censorship, authoritarian tendencies in our government, and our own freedom of expression. Quoting some of the Tweets in response to this issue:

@adnanp: so much for “democracy” in pakistan. Wikipedia, youtube, flickr, facebook all banned!

@naveennaqvi: there’s no sense of civil disobedience in #Pakistan. the way to challenge the campaign was to protest it not to blank it!

@DrAwab: Worrisome – the PTA notification has no time limit starts now to no end

It is unfortunate that the government is taking staunch steps in banning social media websites across Pakistan in response to a campaign. As a result, what started as a group of hate mongers looking for attention has now turned in to a major source of inconvenience for internet users across Pakistan. As it seems the LHC finds no harm in banning these social media platforms, one must remind them that the very same online tools were mobilised to campaign during the judicial crisis.

This is a a sad day for new media in Pakistan. While many claim this to be a ‘victory’ against the offensive campaign, I feel at loss. The ban frenzy has only created a win-win situation for extremists on both sides. Instead of allowing people to opt for deactivating their accounts and registering their protests in the way they want, we have been forced to act like sheep once again, forced to jump on a bandwagon, and bear the burden of the perception that we are in fact an intolerant society.

Every individual should have the choice to protest or express their opinion in the way they want, a right that no one should be allowed to take away. I may choose not to use Facebook ever again, but I reserve the right to make that decision on my own.


32 thoughts on “Pakistan Facebook Ban: The Ban That Backfired

  1. Facebook being banned was a stupid thing to do…Pakistan is so intolerant. If anyone insults Islam, they are are to be killed or jailed for life! That is such bullshit! What about when muslims insult other peoples religion like Christianity or Judaism? We are doing the same thing that happened to us and Pakistan was created for. Intolerance. I really hate being Pakistani right now! Sigh

  2. Boycott Facebook forever
    We are inviting Muslim from all over the world to come and join Peace full Protest against the Blasphemous competition on facebook. We are offering the Muslim to boycott facebook forever not only for 03 days in just few days their losses reached to billions. Don’t worry about the Salary Inshah Allah you will rewarded in the AAKHEERA.

  3. Summery of response:
    It seems, Pakistan is far behind to Modern world and Muslims are still living in Stone Age. Let me tell you “it is age of reason not religion”. If you will never allow others to criticize your religion it will never evolve and it is becoming problem for you and non-muslims too. It seems Islam can‘t stand on open scrutiny therefore Muslims don’t allow it be criticized. Open it for debates on your countries, either It will rule the world or it will become the History.

    Keep in mind “freedom of speech” on religions is pith in developed countries(Europe and American). They have left behind the religions in 17th century, most of them don’t take religion too serious so are progressing in this era. “Freedom of speech“ is non-negotiable in Modern World.

    When you ask for respect for Islam and your Prophet. You forget that prophet Muhammad himself destroyed idles in Mecca in the first place without caring other religions, Taliban in Afghanistan did the same way but never was such response. When you burn flags of other counties, is that not offensive for their nation.

    Through out the Islam expansion period Muslims destroyed other religions not with preaching with sword too.

    When Hindus ask you to not eat cows because it is like God of some Hindus, you laugh at them. This is the way you respect other religions.

    “Islam is religion of peace and Tolerance” is a slogan from moderate Muslims but Muslims never show any tolerance; see how your react in Pakistan showing tolerance and peace.

    Instead of asking other to read Quran and Hadith, better read it yourself first in translation. Which state that: ”you can beat your wife.” ‘Earth is flat” “Star are made to make sky beautiful” ”Muhammad married 9 years girls while he was 52 years old” “Kill the infidels” ”Jews can’t be your friend (even there was no Israel)” “Universe was created in seven days” “Islam orders kill the apostate” There are many more contradiction of science and human right with Islam. I know Islam is not bad but these are the issues which need to be discussed. When your religion causes “suicide bombing” “hijacking plans” “killing Journalists”.
    After having all these issue how world can put it above criticism even there is no exception for other religions.

    Only the problems with Muslims are they attached with religions too firmly and never negotiate on this. Please think that your religion can be false. Keep in mind that all religions are man made. Take them seriously in every wake of life is problem now because they were make centuries ago. “Peace””Love all humanity not only muslims brothers also Jews can be your brothers if you love them too.”

    1. Pakistan is in no way backwards, a true Muslim is attached to Islam very firmly. The reason being is that Islam is not only a religion it is a “LIFESTYLE: way of life”. Every principle in Islam has a clear logic behind it.

      Muslims will never be weak to allow others to criticize and insult their beliefs. You clearly misunderstand that Islam was complete after the last Messenger of God: Muhammad (PBUH). The structure thas has already been defined is now for all times to come, everything has been set in the Qur’an.

      Keep in mind there is a clear line between “Freedom of Speech” and “Hate Speech”. What you call “the age of reasoning” also depicts the respect of all cultures, beleifs and religions.

      Islam makes it compulsory on every Muslim to respect others and not to inflict oppression on any individual or society. You talk of eating beef and disrespect to Hindus. You are wrong, we are not forcing Hindus to eat cows, we are not slaugthering cows infront of Hindus. With your reasoning the entire world is then disrespecting Hindus.

      What you call progress in Europe and North America clearly shows with the corruption in politics, corporation monopolies, a failed economic structure, a capitalist society that treats the middle class and lower class like slaves. Open your eyes dude, the only freedom you really have is very very slim.

      Even though the media protrays Pakistan on a negative light due to their propogandic agenda. Pakistan within 60 years alone has world’s advanced telecommunication system, high level of competition in every field, unique civil architecture, the best academic universities, the best medical institutions and much more.

      You should actually visit Pakistan and Middle East before you buy into the media man.

      All the quotes you stated from the Quran are out of context. Your comment shows you are an aetheist and clearly don’t understand the nature of things.

      The issue you talk of are due to politics not Islam. Seek guidance.

  4. I wonder why don’t such good muslims come out and protest to eradicate terrorism and flogging the poor girls! After all, it has been condemned by our Holy Prophet (PBUH) too! Does it ring any bell anywhere? I doubt!!!

  5. Sana Saleem, remember, Islam never allows Muslims to offer other cheek, if slapped on one. Under the circumstances, it must be an eye for an eye. Have everybody forgotten the reaction of the Jews and the west on the recent statements of Iranian leadership on holocaust. “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

  6. @NUMB, ban is not matter of censorship but more than it. I am surprised taht no one had replied to my question. What about HOLOCAST? Does any of the democratic countries dare to talk about this fake story of bloody jews. You say democratic please visit the following link. It is written in urdu language you can translate it to see the ugly face of democracy and the independence of speech.

  7. It’s useful sometimes to look at end results: A large number of Muslims asked that Facebook remove the “Everybody Draw Mohammed” page. Result #1: It is still up (as of this morning) and the publicity attracted more members than it would have gotten otherwise. Result #2: The government of Pakistan has now banned all of Facebook and all of YouTube. By demanding that free speech be limited, the groups involved have had their own speech limited much more than those who created the offending Facebook page. Let me be clear: There is a lot of material on Facebook and YouTube that offends me. We have hate groups in the US and they post a lot of material on social media. But if I tried to have them removed, I would only be giving them free publicity they don’t deserve. I think social media can be very useful to the people of Pakistan. But if you want to make use of it, you have to accept what goes with it. Otherwise, your government can very effectively cut it all out and deprive you of a microphone. Iran and China have already proven this.

    1. There was a page made on facebook by an angered Pakistani after he saw the draw Muhammad day page .it was agains t the holocaust.
      He signed in after a few hours on facebook only to learn that his profile had been de-activated by the facebook team as his page was considered ‘hurtful’ to the sentiments of a particular community.
      So Mr.Jim I suppose the great idea of freedom of speech applies only to Jews and christains does it?
      Also most of us in Pakistan are fine with the temporary ban so I would advise you to not worry about us being deprived of microphones.

  8. Sana i Totally Agree with you…banning sites isnt a Solution at all..its just a Gateway to Stone Age…Its my decision weather i use fb or youtube or not..Im an Individual living in a democratic country..but is our Government acting like one? They are just Trying to Cover up their flaws and all other Major Exisiting issues in pakistan by Fueling this Fire!! Just like you said….If we cant see it..Doesnt mean its not there =)

  9. Miss Sana Saleem:
    I feel regret for your thoughts. What would you do if someone do something very wrong to your loved one?
    What type of manner and protest you want from Muslims? bcz i have now doubt about your religion. None of the muslims will ever tolerate any thing wrong against their beloved prophet.
    If you and your supporters are so liberal and democrat and they also believe in human rights, then please please please…. start a wide discussion about HOLOCAST. Ask the facebook if they dare to start discussing HOLOCAST.

  10. For me Molly Morris is the new Sulman Rushdie. There have been few of these Sulman Rushdies who have appeared and just as fast disappeared in the last few years.

    My argument is this, if people such as Molly Morris have the ability to incite religious hatred then religious people have every right to defend themselves and their beliefs.

    Molly Morris, should be held accountable and responsible for her actions and the rage of Muslims from all around the world.

  11. So the targets of this banning campaign are some of the most benign sites on the web – places where you can pretty much post anything with (largely) no restrictions. Wikipedia, Facebook, Youtube and Flickr are some of the most expressive places on the internet – what goes on in these places consists of the natural thoughts and ideas of millions and millions of people.

    If you don’t like that, well, you might as well drag yourself off the internet, ban the mouths that produce those ideas and the eyes and ears that comprehend them, or bury your head in the sand and seal yourself off from reality.

    Your choice, LHC.

  12. I am writing here as someone who joined the “Everybody Draw Mohammed” page on Facebook. I don’t agree that the page was only about hate speech, although there was enough of that in the comments from both sides. The page came about in reaction, first, to the death threats against the cartoonist who drew Mohammed for a Danish newspaper and second, to the censorship of a South Park episode that depicted Mohammed. If you want to make condemnations, be sure to save some for those who threaten murder in response to cartoons. South Park has sparked controversy previously for its portrayals of the Catholic Church and the Church of Scientology. They do not have a special thing against Muslims. Nor does any particular mainstream media outlet in the US. Free speech is a very strong tradition for us. As we see it, if you are offended by another’s speech, you have the right to speak out in opposition just as loudly. You do not have the right to threaten murder or to shut down that other’s speech completely. This principle has stood for a long time in Western democracies and we’re not going to abandon it. And you should know that no media outlet will thrive by offending one group all of the time. We (least of all me) are not obsessed with mocking Islam. But we are obsessed with maintaining a free press. And free speech is something I would recommend to people everywhere who are not exactly satisfied with their government. It’s the only way you will get a better government. Just don’t listen to the fearmongers who tell you free speech is chaos and sacrilege. I would bet that Mohammed himself had to challenge the existing powers with his speech. Borrow some of that courage.

    1. Jim Thank you so much for writing in for visiting my blog. What you are saying is exactly what i mentioned in my post before one and even before the ban, You can read it here:
      It is true I strongly agree. No One has the right to threaten someone because they do not agree with them. I have always insisted and will continue to do so that people must register their protest or dislike in a peaceful manner.

    2. @Jim Hey jokes about christian and muslims are not the cause of uproar, target me instead. But can i see my sister, little brother or someone i love in this situation, and more if he is innocent.

      Lets Make a page “OBAMA’s Mother was …….”.

      Your doubts the facebook grants freedom of speech will burn to ashes.

      Please Read about Muhammad(S.A)
      I have recommended a book from a Christian Author:
      “Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet” – Karen Armstrong

      She gives the reader some background information on the time period and culture in which Islam was given its birth. Also she discusses Muhammad’s life through the remainder of the book. In the final chapter, after discussing the events surrounding his death, she gives a brief overview of post-Muhammad Islam.

  13. Well, well sana u r again quoting that the campaign page is accessible which is NOT as far as I am concerned. You are a big facebook /social media supporter and once again proved it with this post.

    <> it results in an apology from Molly Norris so I think it works.
    It was a peaceful move to let the world know that they should learn to respect every religion.

    People in Pakistan had talked a lot about blasphemy law after Gojra incident but now silent. sighssssssss

    1. Hina Thanks for commenting. Firstly, I wrote and submitted this blog in the morning whne the site was still accessible it was put up in the afternoon, so let’s not talk about it NOT being accessible now. I am pleased that I proved my point, I am a social media supporter because I have used these tools for advocacy and many other things. Not juts ‘chit chatting’ and all. So yes these tools mean something to me and I do feel that everyone should have the right to decide how they want to protest as long as they don’t inflict harm.
      I am not a facebook fan because firstly it’s a platform that doesn’t respect its users privacy secondly I don’t agree with Facebook’s stance on this particular incident. I also feel that they are not being able to cope up with their terms and conditions. But that does not mean that I will ‘impose’ it on someone else.
      As for your opinion on blasphemy law, I am afraid it makes no sense here. First of all, banning the website (facebook a little understandable but Youtube?flickr?WIKIPEDIAAA????) is NOT the solution. Although I would love to hear the genius math behind all the calculations regarding the ‘loss’ facebook had to suffer.
      We need to be clear about why we want facebook to suffer is it because it failed to remove the page? OK great! But that doesn’t mean the campaign was harmed in anyway. The campaign page gained from 35000 to 85000 likes after the ban. Go figure.
      I am not trying to teach anyone what to be offended about,. Neither am I saying that the cartoons weren’t offensive nor am I denying facebooks mistake. All I am saying is that ban is not the answer. Please spare me now as I seriously do not have it in me to be more clear on this subject.
      Thank you and hope you drop by again!

  14. Well, well sana u r again quoting that the campaign page is accessible which is NOT as far as my I am concerned. You are a big facebook /social media supporter and once again proved it with this post.

    <> it results in an apology from Molly Norris so I think it works.
    It was a peaceful move to let the world know that they should learn to respect every religion.

    People in Pakistan had talked a lot about blasphemy law after Gojra incident but now silent. sighssssssss

  15. If I was Pakistani, blasphemy wouldn’t concern me this much since there are other real problems in the country that have not been solved and are more pressing (like the literacy rate of the country). What about all Pakistanis protesting for the lack of schools in rural PK?

  16. It is a shame that such ignorance exists on both sides. I guess our job to spread common sense and decency is going to be harder than we thought.


  17. “(isn’t it ironic that the LHC decided to take an immediate and strict stance on a matter like this as compared to the thousands of pending cases in more pressing matters)?”

    I think, it is among those most important and pressing issues too. What if the LHC hadn’t decided to ban this website? The people who’re feelin’ it a victory, would have been on roads with more voilence, who knows? Else, it’s a truth too that Facebook has been a best medium to ‘spread your word’ and gather people for one cause.

    I, too am in favour of banning Facebook in Pakistan. But obviously not ‘forever’. People who’re asking to ban facebook are doin’ so because they wanna give facebook a financial jerk. Isn’t it peaceful enough than holding guns and murdering the ‘perpetrators’.

    What is needed on government’s part, after banning facebook, for this very reason, is to take actions diplomatically and with international arbitration, to clear point of view of Muslims against blasphemy. So, that there are no future such events which would lead to such riots and ‘voilent’ behaviour of people here.

    I had read your previoud blog over the very issue too. But what is missing actually from your blogs is the ‘other peaceful way’ which would be more effective and more ‘civilised’ to send out our message to the western world.

    Aggression against Facebook is not because they’ve this event’s page on their website, it is because it is STILL on their website despite of continous several thousands of ‘reports’ against that page.

    You go and talk against American policies and Israel’s behaviour on Facebook and you wont find your page again, in mere a couple of days. Aggression is against this discrimination actually.

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