Twitter’s Attack on Free Speech
If you are active on Twitter, you may have encountered the #TwitterTheocracy campaign which was initiated on June 10, 2014 by EXMNA (Ex-Muslims of North America).1 It was trending very high for several hours on the 10th and beyond, and was endorsed by thousands including accomplished scientists and writers such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. For those who aren’t familiar with the campaign or the associated petition, it is essentially an attempt to urge Twitter to stop complying with the Pakistani government in blocking tweets that the government considers “blasphemous”. Not only is Twitter allowing this backwards practice, it has provided the Pakistani government with internet tools to help them carry out the censorship in a more systematic manner.2
The “blasphemy” label used by the Pakistani government is very vague. It is not just limited to cartoons of Muhammad or comic strips about his life. It even encompasses the posting of quotes or writings that are deemed “anti-Islamic”.3 No other belief system in the world, except for maybe the North Korean government, promotes such censorship in the modern age. Within hours of the start of the campaign, its petition page was blocked in Pakistan.
I will not even attempt to question the Pakistani government’s actions. This level of censorship is nothing new in Pakistan. In fact, YouTube was blocked for a long time in the Islamic republic as well as in other other Muslim-majority countries due to videos which were deemed “blasphemous”.4 Trying to reason with Pakistani lawmakers, especially through a Western blog, is like attempting to convince Kim Jong-un to let American prisoners go home.
However, the support of Pakistani censorship by Twitter is absolutely unacceptable. As a proponent of technology and freedom of speech, it is truly heart-breaking for me to see Twitter bend over backwards to appease Islamists. This is the same Twitter that served as a communications medium allowing millions of Egyptians to overthrow the oppressive dictator, Hosni Mubarak. This is also the same Twitter that allowed protestors in Tunisia to organize massive peace gatherings, the likes of which were virtually impossible before the information age.5 In a time when human rights are at constant war with backwards ideas such as the execution of LGBTQ people, as well as of women and men who choose to change religions, social media websites such as Twitter serve to unite people around the world for common causes.
I urge Twitter to not give in to the Islamists’ demands. Where will it end? Will Twitter eventually send private information of “blasphemous” users to Islamist governments so that they can be lined up and executed? Pakistan’s laws currently allow “blasphemy” to be punishable by death.6 We see it in action all the time. Please Twitter, stand for what is right. Don’t be intimidated by foreign governments. In the words of the founding father of the United States:
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” (George Washington)7