I see you’ve posted a message of support and tried to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
However, I can’t help but wonder whether you really know what the words mean. The literal translation into English is “I stand with Charlie,” [it also means 'I am Charlie, or I follow Charlie'] but past policies adopted by Facebook have made it clear that you don’t, honestly, stand with Charlie, or anywhere near Charlie for that matter.
On your page you valiantly wrote, “Yet as I reflect on yesterday's attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject -- a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world.”
“I won't let that happen on Facebook. I'm committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence,” you claim. Oh, but you already have made it a platform where all manners of horror are freely posted, while voices asking for peace and tolerance are silenced. Confused? Let me explain.
You started out your entire narrative by outlining a Pakistani fanatic that wanted you dead for an offensive video. However, within Pakistan alone you censored over 1,773 pieces of progressive content. During the last half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, censorship on Facebook saw a 19% hike. Why is this relevant? Because the content you’re censoring in this country comes from left-wing liberal pages targeting extremism and oppressive state policies. On the other hand, pages with actual hate speech targeting both Muslim minorities and non-Muslims continue to push out their displaceable [perhaps you meant despicable] content with complete freedom and ease.
Pakistan desperately needs a counter narrative to tackle issues relating to extremism and terrorism. This is a country that feeds on conspiracy theories and not facts. When the murders in Paris first took place people began analyzing images to see how fake they could be, because everything is a conspiracy against religion, it causes no trouble or damage on its own. Do you see what we are living with?
However, when our government tells you to shut down pages that are trying to build a counter narrative, you do so happily. One would think that you’d support content that can counter the narrative that breeds hate. The kind of hate that leads to people wanting someone dead over a cartoon or a video.
The issue of Facebook’s hidden deals with the government has been raised time and again. Bytes for All, a Pakistani NGO, wrote an open letter to Susan Morgan, Executive Director, Global Network Initiative (GNI). There’s a specific part of their protest you must read, dear Mark. In their appeal they pointed out: “We are writing to you after a startling claim that was made officially in the Lahore High Court on 4 July 2013 by Mr. Waseem Tauqir, Director General (S&D), the representative of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), where he claimed that the government of Pakistan has an existing “arrangement” with Facebook, which allows them to have “undesirable” content and Facebook pages blocked as per directions from the Authority.
“What makes this extraordinary turn of events even more disturbing is the fact that several important Facebook pages focusing on alternate discourse have recently become inaccessible, blocked or removed from Facebook in Pakistan.”
Of course it’s not like Facebook hasn’t addressed this issue before. It earlier explained its position by elaborating on how content in Pakistan is restricted because criticism of the state isn’t legal, and blasphemous content isn’t too great either.
What do you think those 12 people died for at Charlie Hebdo? Charb, Cabu, Honore, Tignous, and others; what was their ‘crime’? If you guessed blasphemous content then you should get a cookie because that’s absolutely correct. And while we’re at it, I should also point out that criticism of the state is not illegal in Pakistan, but the state doesn’t like it very much when it does happen, obviously.
So you can probably relate to my surprise when I see you so courageously defend different voices. “We stood up for this because different voices -- even if they're sometimes offensive -- can make the world a better and more interesting place,” you wrote. I tried to once again open the original pages for 'Roshni', 'Behnsa', 'Taliban are Zaliman', etc but all I found was the fourth or fifth page these guys have had to make because you keep shutting them down.
Pages that ask for tolerance and protection for minorities have been routinely taken down. Their essential and only crime is that they speak against extremism. They speak against targeting people based on faith, they speak against faith itself at times when faith doesn’t seem to make much sense. So they should have been unbanned, right? Nope. And unsurprisingly, content targeting minorities and progressive thinkers continues to flourish and remains unchecked. Efforts to get this form of content removed from your platform are often met with stoic responses.
In your post, you then wrote, “Facebook has always been a place where people across the world share their views and ideas. We follow the laws in each country but we never let one country or group of people dictate what people can share across the world.” That's lovely because at least you’re admitting that you cow down to government pressure. Do you realize that you’ve also removed content that spoke against the Taliban? How are you countering extremism by censoring the counter narrative. Do you even know that Pakistan ranks 158 out of 180 on the World Freedom Index? Are you sure about #JeSuisCharlie?
You do not stand with Charlie, you do nothing of the sort. Would you like to make an actual difference? Give people’s voices back to them. During the same time where you upped the ante on censorship Twitter was busy thumbing their nose at Pakistani authorities that wanted 12 pieces of content removed. So it’s not impossible.
Pakistan has been struggling against the burden of extremism for a while now. We recently lost a total of 145 people, including 132 children, in just one attack by the same kind of fanatics that wanted you dead, dearest Mark. We are battered, broken and tired. However, the hate that runs deep cannot be remedied with you shutting our voices down.
As we swallowed the loss of 132 young corpses, many from within this country began wondering whether it was really the Taliban or perhaps it was a Jewish/Hindu/US conspiracy. But there are only so few left to tell them they wrong.
Is your idea of freedom of speech only restricted to countries that will tolerate you and not shut you down. Is it only important till the point that it doesn’t damper your profit margin?
The #JeSuisCharlie hashtag should mean more than a hip trend for you to tout. It has to mean more.
Hana Wali likes juggling her love for anime and all things sweet, with her interest in current affairs and social issues. For further banter please email her at email@example.com