The Copycat Facebook Ban

BangladeshFlag.jpg Remember how on May 19th, the Pakistan government banned facebook? Phillygrrl wrote about how all the hoopla was over how there was one page on Facebook dedicated to the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” which was in turn a retaliation to the anti-South Park activists out there. Soon after, people in Pakistan couldn’t access YouTube (that ban was lifted a few days ago, selectively).

Well yesterday, Bangladesh totally copycatted Pakistan.

Bangladesh has blocked access to Facebook after satirical images of the prophet Muhammad and the country’s leaders were uploaded, say reports. Officials said the ban was temporary and access to the site would be restored once the images were removed.

A spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) told AFP Facebook had “hurt the religious sentiments of the country’s majority Muslim population” by carrying “offensive images” of Mohammed. [BBC]

I just think it’s kind of silly that that they are “officially” citing the cartoons TEN days after the actual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” That site isn’t even up anymore. If that was really the issue, the halal-ness of the interwebs in Bangladesh, wouldn’t they have banned Facebook at the same time Pakistan did – on May 19th the day before the ‘sanctioned’ date of May 20th?

I think the real issue is that the current Bangladesh government was insulted by cartoons made about THEM. And they are using the anti-Muslim sentiment as a scapegoat. > “Some links in the site also contained obnoxious images of our leaders including the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the leader of the opposition,” said the [Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC)] commission’s acting chair, Hasan Mahmud Delwar.

On Saturday, one man was arrested by the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Dhaka and charged with uploading the images. “Facebook will be re-opened once we erase the pages that contain the obnoxious images,” said Mr Delwar. [BBC]

What I was able to gather was that as soon as RAB arrested the youth for uploading onto Facebook images about the current Prime Minister and opposition leader, they made the recommendation to block Facebook temporarily. All of this screams not simply censorship, but of a lack of real democratic values. I.e. don’t talk smack (or draw cartoons) about your political leaders, or we will take away your right to social media. Yay for democracy, the South Asian way.

The Bangladesh government’s action is pretty transparent – and the youth of Bangladesh are rebelling back.

Hundreds of Dhaka University students took to the campus streets on Sunday to protest the government temporarily shutting down the popular social networking website Facebook. They called the decision a contradiction to the government’s ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision and “interference with the right of expression”.

More than 400 million people worldwide use this social networking of which Bangladesh accounts for just over 875,000 users, mostly youth.And it is these young people who are finding the decision a contradiction with the government’s ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision– a slogan featuring high on the ruling Awami League campaign pledges– saying that blocking the site will bring no benefit. [bdnew24]

And of course, a protest wouldn’t be a real protest w/out the following:

A Facebook group named Withdraw the ban on Facebook in Bangladesh has been created. [Global Voices]

Of course.

All joking aside, Global Voices article has a really in-depth analysis quoting some noted Bangladeshi bloggers, if you want to read up more on this issue. Pakistan’s Facebook ban is scheduled to be lifted tomorrow and it seems that the facebook page in question was taken off of the Facebook site. I guess we’ll see what happens tomorrow for Pakistani interweb users. As for Bangladesh, the site was blocked “temporarily” so we’ll see just how temporary that is.

This entry was posted in Blog, Issues, Tech by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

23 thoughts on “The Copycat Facebook Ban

  1. I am surprised that why any state in India did not ban facebook for hurting sentiments of their vote bank. I recall Da Vinci code was banned in India before even they did it in Vatican.

  2. Governments suck. Governments, social institutions, etc. that fear its subjects having access to mere information, imagery, words, sounds, ideas, suck without air. Younger people in the third world are growing too sophisticated and too impatient for this, hacking their way around such willful inconveniences. I only hope that the digital age frustrates these hidebound governments and paternalistic institutions more and more, so they are revealed for the cartoonish control-fiends that they are, and rejected by their vassals. Sharia courts in Northern Nigeria ruled against Facebook and Twitter a couple months ago, on the grounds that debates by Nigerian human rights groups around the legality of amputations, hosted on these websites, is un-Islamic. Not cool. In Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, wherever, free speech should remain free – to debate, to insult, to upstage, to debase, to teach, to aggravate, to anger, to enlighten. Free speech is one of the main qualities of the open, internationally available internet, and is a value every human society in the world ought to be able to claim as their own – not just the West. The reverence for free speech, to me, is the sign of the more cultivated and tolerant human, even if that sounds mad arrogant and politically incorrect. But I believe that. Free speech is just superior.

  3. “Hundreds of Dhaka University students took to the campus streets on Sunday to protest the government temporarily shutting down the popular social networking website Facebook. They called the decision a contradiction to the government’s ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision and “interference with the right of expression”.”

    This is really awesome. I feel the laws of so many muslim states are dictated by an interpretation of islam that conservative, patriarchical, xenophobic. So awesome to see muslim desis stand up for “the right of expression” – hope their govt listens!

  4. Naijaman wrote:

    Free speech is just superior.

    I totally agree. Here’s what Johann Hari has to say on this subject:

    The solution to the problems of free speech – that sometimes people will say terrible things – is always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it. I recently interviewed the pseudo-historian David Irving, and simply quoting his crazy arguments did far more harm to him than any Austrian jail sentence for Holocaust Denial.
  5. How convenient. Now whenever the GoP/GoB want to impose restrictions on social networking, all they have to do is upload some cartoons of Mohammed and then rush in with loud claims of upholding religion blahblahblah. This is the digital equivalent of throwing the head of a pig/cow into a mosque/temple. Humbugs!

  6. Hi,

    Do these Facebook bans represent the first instances of what will become a continuing trend?

    US politicians apparently just ignore criticism on the Internet, on the theory that trying to do something about it would be free publicity for their critics.

    More authoritarian regimes may take a different attittude. This would appear to be a represent an export market for China, which has good reason to develop a technical solution to the problem. Once a Chinese solution is developed, for all I know, they will able to sell it over here. After all, it is highly unlikely that US poliiticians are really enthusiastic about criticism of pols on the Internet …

    Or maybe a company in Silicon Valley has noticed a potential export market and is developing software to address this problem even as I write.


  7. Over the last couple of years, Facebook deleted pages of Hamas leaders as well as pages denying the Holocaust. I guess that is not censorship?

    Also, “The Jewish Internet Defense Force, which was successful in removing a Facebook page for the group “Israel Is Not A Country! Delist It From Facebook As A Country.”

    How lovely that there are two posts here about the Facebook bans. How about some commentary on the hypocrisy of presenting the drawing of the prophet f-cking a dog or with a bomb on his head is somehow a free speech issue but the systematic removal of many pages deemed offensive to others is not a subject of discussion.

    Taz, as the lone Muslim on this site, you could have at least presented an analysis of the controversy at the heart — the viciousness present in the way the prophet is being depicted as a pedophile dog-f-cker, instead of going, “oh no, look at those morons in those stoopid countries banning facebook.”

  8. Taz, as the lone Muslim on this site, you could have at least presented an analysis of the controversy at the heart

    I’m damned if I do. I’m damned if I do. I deal. So should you.

    My point is – that ISN’T the controversy at heart. The point on THIS thread is that they are using anti-Muslim facebook sentiments as a scapegoat against personal attacks on the government. It’s about the manipulation of governance. The point of THIS thread is democracy and youth activism, two things I always write about.

    There are plenty of posts in our archives talking about the drawing of the prophet. If you want to continue those tired and drawn out conversations, go find them on the archives.

  9. @ Raymond Turney:

    The Chinese government for a while was requiring all computers sold in China to have “Green Dam” internet censorship software installed on them. I’m not sure exactly where this issue stands right now; it was big last year. But US-based computer makers have already been in the hot seat or in protest for being [potentially] required to comply with this policy, which would not be tolerated in the US. So the notion of software firms confronting a world in which mass-censorship software becomes marketable is already very much a reality.

    In the US, the April district court ruling in favor of Comcast, concluding that the FCC had no authority to censure it for blocking access to BitTorrent, was one of the biggest net neutrality cases of the times. The new rules the FCC is proposing in response to this seek to classify the internet as a “telecommunications device” as opposed to a mere “information device” and thus grant the commission power to prevent providers from blocking a user’s access to anything, That would theoretically maintain the status quo and place the FCC on our side. But it seems the undoing of a free internet, and by extension free speech, in America would be more likely to come through the legal machinations of the communications and media conglomerates, and their technicality-based lawsuits to courts. If any politician in America is to be taken seriously, he or she ideally ought to be a defender and practitioner of the first amendment of that constitution they swear to uphold.

    In any case, austere vigilance against the threats to free speech, whether techno-legalistic, by religious decrees, or by paranoid governments, is required by all everywhere, including the in US, Bangladesh, India, the EU, etc. Else not only might censorship become law, but a censorship industry may arise, with the profit incentive encouraging corporations to produce the most free speech-killing software and technology possible.

    @ TTCUSM: The Johann Hari piece was on point.

  10. Neha, getting pretty tired of your preachiness on some of these threads. Please chill out a bit. As Taz said, we already talked various aspects of this before. And we all have different takes.

  11. What’s most ironical is the practical example of “Digital Bangladesh”. It seems the govt doesn’t practice what it preaches (oh well, what else is new concerning governmet!)

  12. A Pakistani court orders the authorities to restore the Facebook social networking site. about 2 hours ago

    All too much hope. The West has changed, under an Obama who bows to the saudi king.

    Apparently, Facebook apologized and deleted the page.

    So there. Now Muslims (fundamentalists, ofcourse) know that all they have to do is offer some threats and fatwas and can get their way, anywhere, anytime.

  13. It was not FB that took off the site. The moderator of the facebook page was hacked:

    “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Creator’s Computer Hacked”

    “…This morning, I engaged Mr. Ali Hassan via Andy’s Skype account and asked him some questions. Ali Hassan, the hacker of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day claims he did this because he is a Muslim and offended about the depiction of his prophet, Mohammed. Hassan also claims to have Andy’s address, but did not offer any insight as to what he plans to use it for.

    So once again, another person who tries to create discourse and expression for the Muslim religion is trying to be suppressed through intimidation and threats of violence…”

  14. This is an interview with the page moderator, Andy:

    “The Everybody Draw Mohammed Facebook Page Creator That Caused Pakistan and Iran to Shut Off Access To The Site ” “…So why did he create this page, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day? I asked, Andy if he was promoting any business or selling anything and he told me, “no, not at all. But we support all artists that make a living by using free speech.” And that is the answer; Free Speech. Andy says, “It started as a support group for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but it is developing into something of a bigger scale. A joint effort for everyone who wants to support the right to free speech.”

    Andy also says that the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Facebook Page and Blog has no, “intention to offend the moderate Muslims, but to defend the rights for everyone to express themselves as they want, without being silenced by death threats.”

  15. SM blcoks users it does not like and now complaining about Pak and FB. SM does the same. Hypciates

  16. Sepia is good in copying

    Thanks – it’s called “citing an accredited news source.” That’s what the indentations mean, and if you click on the hyperlink after the indentation, it links to to the original news source.

  17. This argument about free speech is interesting – the SM intern is notorious for deleting comments (and banning IPs). We know FB has banned/removed some pages deemed offensive. But these go against the vein of ‘free speech’. And we then rude our high horse about other states and governments.

    Ah, screw you guys.