Twitter unblocks 'blasphemous' accounts in Pakistan

After banning dozens of accounts at the government's request, the social network recants and makes the content available again.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

One of several Twitter accounts previously blocked in Pakistan. Twitter/screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

It's been one month since Twitter decided to comply with Pakistani government wishes and block dozens of user accounts in the country. Now, backpedaling, the social network has reinstated access to these accounts.

Working with Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, an organization devoted to protecting legal online activity, Twitter announced on Tuesday that it restored access to the blocked accounts after reexamining the content and determining it didn't warrant a ban.

"We have reexamined the requests and, in the absence of additional clarifying information from Pakistani authorities, have determined that restoration of the previously withheld content is warranted," Twitter said in a statement. "The content is now available again in Pakistan."

The commotion began after Pakistani authorities deemed dozens of tweets and accounts "blasphemous" or "unethical." Several of the accounts appeared to be anti-Islamic showing tweets and images mocking the Prophet Muhammad, photos of burning Qurans, and messages from anti-Islam bloggers.

Twitter received five requests from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to take down the accounts in the beginning of May. And, on May 18, it complied.

This marked the first time the social network agreed to take down content in Pakistan. Twitter has said that blocking certain tweets in possible violation of local law is better than having its entire site taken down in specific countries. The company has wrestled with the latter, most recently as Turkey banned the entire site over a few tweets.

However, the move to block content in Pakistan drew criticism. Pakistani advocacy group Bolo Bhi questioned the right of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to request a block on Twitter content, arguing that such power is beyond its scope. And, the Electronic Frontier Foundation echoed that criticism, saying, "it is even more alarming to see Twitter comply with Pakistani requests based on what Bolo Bhi describes as 'little in the way of due process.'"

For its part, Twitter said on Tuesday that when it blocks content it tries to make these decisions based on as much information as possible.

"We always strive to make the best, most informed decisions we can when we're compelled to reactively withhold identified content in specific jurisdictions around the world," the social network said.

(Via The Wall Street Journal)