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Facebook participates in censorship in foreign countries

The issue of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter giving foreign governments and intelligence agencies user data and granting censorship requests has been a topic of recent discussion in the news.

In Facebook's most recent report on government requests for user data and censorship, it became clear that the more the company acquiesces to requests, the higher the number of those orders will rise, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Facebook report revealed that Pakistan and Turkey made many requests to the company in the past year. Interestingly, Facebook is not obligated by law to grant requests in certain countries, yet those governments have been quick to capitalize on the company's willingness to hand over information. The highest number of requests by a foreign government, however, came from India, where Facebook is widely used. Turkey and Pakistan followed India in number of requests closely, with 1893 and 1773 requests for content removal respectively, according to EFF.

Facebook says it is following local laws
Facebook announced that it will only remove content when it is illegal as per local laws, reported the news source. The company upholds that it will not provide additional information on censored content. In Turkey, it is illegal to criticize the state or the modern founder of the country – Ataturk. When Facebook agrees to remove content that criticizes Ataturk, for example, the company is adhering to local law, but it is likewise engaging in political censorship. This is an interesting and noteworthy situation as it presents an ethical dilemma. 

A similar situation was observed in Pakistan. According to EFF, earlier this year, Twitter reversed a decision to censor content at the request of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, after facing criticism from Pakistani civil society. Twitter released a statement that explained the reversal of content removal.

"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. The content is now available again in Pakistan," Twitter said, according to EFF.

In a sense, Twitter and Facebook have no choice when they open an office in a foreign country – they are required to adhere to local laws and remove illegal content. Twitter may serve as an example for Facebook, in that Twitter tries to be more transparent about the legal requests it receives, and at times, it will reverse its censorship actions. In countries where Facebook is not obligated to comply with censorship requests, like Turkey and Pakistan, and a host of other countries, it can be argued that the company should refuse to play a part in government censorship efforts altogether.

Some countries just won't stop censorship
RYOT reported on events that occurred at an APEC summit event in Beijing. Recently-divorced Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen wrapping the wife of Chinese President, Xi Jinping, with a shawl. Peng accepted the shawl from Putin – now single for the first time in over 20 years – but she eventually swapped the shawl with with her own coat. The government of China quickly censored the footage that aired live on State TV. In a country that is all about maintaining appearances, having the first lady flirt with a foreign president on national television is not a good look. Furthermore, while it is obvious these events mean nothing, it shows that China has no intention of slowing down their censorship efforts or even allowing one silly instance of "inappropriate material" to slip through the cracks.

The question for the future is whether social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter want to be part of meaningless censorship efforts such as this, or more serious censorship of demonstrations and pro-democracy movements. Abiding by local laws means siding with regimes, some of which do not support the same ideals that the social networking sites and their shareholders believe in. EFF argues that social networking sites should display what kind of censorship requests they receive from foreign governments. By doing this, civil societies in those countries will see the censorship behavior of their governments for what it is and may begin to take actions to address the issue of freedom of speech more objectively. 

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