Last week, Facebook revealed that it had blocked pages for a popular rock band and several left-wing political groups in Pakistan. The move stirred up a firestorm of accusations that the site was giving in to government demands for censorship. After the outcry, the government indeed decided to unblock some of the pages.
“Facebook claims to be in favor of free speech, and talks about protecting political expression, but they are not,” said Shahzad Ahmad, a member of Bytes for All Pakistan, an Internet freedom group, in The New York Times. “For the sake of their own profits and business, they are caving in to anything the government demands.”
Facebook’s official policy is to comply with any local laws, and a spokesperson for the site said they complied with a request from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block the pages.
“While we never remove this type of content from the site entirely, like most Internet services, we may restrict people from accessing it in the countries where it is determined to be illegal,” the spokeswoman told the Times.
It’s Facebook’s policy to remove harmful or offensive posts that may target specific individuals, though critics of the site pointed out that extremist pages promoting violence in Pakistan have not been removed or censored. While Facebook continues to push back against government interference at home, it’s more than a little ironic that the site easily gives in to the demands of government requests abroad.