Why Pakistan Blocked Facebook and YouTube

It all started with a controversial cartoon contest

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The Pakistani government has blocked Facebook and YouTube, as well as some Flickr and Wikipedia pages, throughout the country for the "growing sacrilegious content" on the sites. The controversy began with a popular but informal series of Facebook groups and events called "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day," which is a violation of Islamic law forbidding the depiction of the prophet Mohammad. But the additional bans beyond Facebook appear to have little to do with the Facebook groups. Here's what to understand about this sticky intersection of religious law and free speech.

  • Pakistani Society's Powerful 'Hard-Line' Minority  The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise writes, "The ruling demonstrated the power of hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan. Although they rarely garner many votes in elections and represent a minority of this country’s population, the groups are often able to impose their will on the more peaceful majority by claiming a defense of Islam."
  • Fears of Public Backlash Against Cartoons  The Big Money's Caitlin McDevitt writes, "Pakistani officials seem worried that the event and Facebook activity around it could lead to violent protests, not unlike the backlash sparked by Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Mohammed five years ago."
  • Pakistan's Hypocritical Ban  Foreign Policy's Saba Imtiaz laments "Pakistan's ironic tendency to act only when it comes to blasphemous content and not content that affects the state's security. Hateful and derogatory literature is available openly in Pakistan, and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has not attempted to block YouTube channels such as that of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or videos of hate-laden speeches by Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar." She makes a troubling observation:
I also have to ask what this judgment will do to the morale of the thousands of young students who in 2007 mobilized to campaign for the restoration of Pakistan's judiciary and organized protests of then-President Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule -- using Facebook.
  • Could This Snowball?  Foreign Policy's Katherine Tiedemann wonders, "Next to be blocked in Pakistan: twitter?" More tongue-in-cheek: "And then gmail, I reckon? Because theoretically people could EMAIL each other offensive pics. Then POSTAL mail."
  • Still Accessible  Media Memo's Peter Kafka explains, "Pakistan has temporarily blocked access to YouTube before. So have other countries, including Turkey and Thailand. And China has a permanent ban on the site, as well as Facebook. That doesn’t mean people who live there can’t actually get to the sites — that’s what proxy servers are for — but it does mean it’s harder to do so."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.