Published On: Sat, Jan 12th, 2019

Time to expose Facebook’s gagging tactics and India’s manipulation of the Kashmiri freedom movement.

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By Faizah Gilani

ffSocial media over the years has become a powerful tool for people that want to connect with the rest of the world to convey a message. In recent times we have seen how social media has been instrumental in letting the rest of the world know what is going on with people across the globe. But unfortunately, not everyone can use this tool freely, and this is very well understood by the people of Kashmir who want to share their struggle with the rest of the world, but face restrictions. In recent times, Kashmiri Facebook users have complained about ‘gagging’ tactics used by Facebook, with several posts being deleted and accounts targeted by the social media giant.

It is outrageous for Facebook to be even using such tactics, considering how Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has always advocated for freedom of expression, and has refused to take down several anti-Muslim posts in the past, siting the notion of free speech as the sole reason not to. So, for Facebook to ask moderators to look out for posts that relate to Free Kashmir, that too at the request of the Indian government, is the height of double standards. According to a New York Times report, a guideline slide for Facebook states that, ‘’Indian law prohibits calls for an independent Kashmir’’ and ‘‘instructs moderators to look for phrase Free Kashmir.’’

Facebook setting out moderation guidelines, with Indian law in mind is shocking, but not entirely surprising. It simply exposes Mark Zuckerberg’s bogus claims of being an advocate of free speech. And it also exposes the dark and ugly side of India. It claims to be the world’s largest democracy, and yet its government works to silence Kashmiris in every possible way.

Human Rights activists in Kashmir have asked David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of opinion and Expression, to take up this matter. David Kaye has highlighted this issue, and this is a step in the right direction. This is not something that should be taken lightly, and Facebook must be held accountable for this kind of censorship. It is understandable for posts that are advocating violence to be deleted, and that is why monitoring is important. However, deleting anything related to ‘Free Kashmir’ is absurd, extreme and a violation of free speech. Social media sites should not be working hand in glove with states. This goes against what they are made for.

Kashmir’s freedom movement has always faced obstacles, the biggest of all being the lack of acknowledgment from the rest of the world. The big players on the world stage have more than often deliberately turned a blind eye to the plight of the Kashmiri people, as it fits their own agenda. Most of the countries within the western world such as The United States and Great Britain have military and economic ties with India, so no surprises there as to why they choose to keep quiet over the gross Human Rights violations being carried out on a regular basis. Countries will always serve their own personal agenda first, therefore it is not in the interest of the western world to exert any sort of pressure on India.

So, it comes as no real surprise that Modi’s government is using Facebook as a tool to manipulate the freedom movement. And quite frankly, taking on the government of India is a tough ask. India will always have the upper hand and will continue to enjoy dealing the cards because it is sitting in a comfortable position. The only thing that can help the Kashmiri cause is for Kashmiri Human Rights activists, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and even for the government of Pakistan, to take this issue up on an international level.

Facebook censoring posts on Kashmir is a serious matter and worth fighting for. The hypocrisy and double standards in all of this must be exposed. The west takes great pride in democratic values and firmly believe in the notion of free speech. And yet no one is willing to call out India and Facebook for the censorship of the Kashmir cause. Western countries that have often been critical of China and Saudi Arabia for the use of censorship by their respective regimes, choose to remain silent over India’s interference in how Facebook is moderated.

This issue should be taken up by Pakistan’s Kashmir Committee, as well as the very forthright and blunt Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. Since the formation of PTI’s (Pakistan Tehreek -e -insaaf) government, we have yet to see any note worthy action by the Kashmir Committee. Many have pinned their hopes on Imran Khan’s government to push the issue of Kashmir into the forefront, especially after Muslim League Noon’s lack of interest, and Fazal – Ur Rehman’s dismal performance on the Kashmir Committee. Therefore, it is important for the Kashmir Committee to investigate this matter because it is related to Kashmir’s freedom movement, and negatively impacts the cause. Kashmiris demanding freedom is their right and their voices should not be silenced in any way, or on any platform.

Facebook’s censorship of various Kashmiri posts and targeted accounts has been circulating in the media in recent times and it has been covered by big papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times. More, however, needs to be done and the issue should not be allowed to die down. It is difficult to get Facebook to revisit its moderating policy, but it is extremely important to shame both Facebook and Modi’s government over this. That would be a moral victory for the Kashmir cause. Those that are peacefully advocating Kashmir’s right to self determination have every right to use their Facebook accounts to spread the message. First it was India that tired every possible way to crush their spirit, and now it is Facebook’s turn to create obstacles for the Kashmir cause. It is a sad and unfortunate situation, and demoralising. But Kashmiris need to fight for their right to express their thoughts and views freely, without being silenced.

 

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