Report: Pakistan Blocks Twitter Over Blasphemous Content, Facebook Complies? [Update: Back Up]

Another day, another example of a country making it harder for its people to use the web and some of its most effective channels of communication? There are reports coming in from Pakistan that it has become the latest country to ban the use of Twitter. Update: it’s now back up — new post explaining development here. Read below for full story.

According to the blog Dawn, the chairman of Pakistan’s telecommunications authority has today imposed the restriction because of blasphemous content: it reports that Chairman Mohammad Yaseen blocked the site today “because Twitter refused to remove material related to a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.” Facebook, apparently, has complied with the request, says the blog. Others are now starting to report the same, and below the break we have a screenshot of how accessing the site looks from one of our readers in Lahore who says he “cannot access the site at all.”

Getting blocked in Pakistan, if true, is particularly ironic because the two, paired up, played a major role in one of the most important news events to be broken in recent history: the raid and demise of Osama bin Laden, which was tweeted by at least two people watching the raids as they happened in the mountains of the country.

This is a developing (and slightly confusing) story: just yesterday, about 12 hours ago, Senator Rehman Malik, of Pakistan’s People Party, tweeted that nothing was getting blocked: “Dear all, I assure u that Twitter and FB will continue in our country and it will not be blocked. Pl do not believe in rumors,” he wrote. We have contacted Twitter and Facebook for their responses to this story.

Update: More details coming in from Pakistan’s Express Tribune: The request to block the site was made by the Ministry of Information and Technology, it says, citing a drawing competition (more on that here). The ministry, apparently, made several requests to Twitter, which responded that it “cannot stop any individual doing anything of this nature on the website.”

Directives to block the site were sent to ISPs in several parts of the country, including PTCL Broadband and Wi-Tribe. It also reports that Twitter is still accessible by mobile using secure browsers like Opera, as well as proxies and VPNs like Vtunnel. [original report continues]

This is not the first time that Twitter has been blocked in the country: a similar ban took place in 2010, Dawn reports. That lasted for two weeks.

The move underscores how susceptible social networks remain to higher powers in government. And Pakistan is not the only country to pull something like this.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter  are still officially forbidden in China (although millions use it anyway using VPNs — virtual private networks), with the bans often having strong political overtones around people expressing contrary opinions. Developing countries with big populations represent some of the biggest potential growth opportunities for scale-oriented social networks — when they can get used.

Even developed countries like the UK have floated ideas about how to restrict the flow of information on social networks — this was something that came up last summer during the London riots and the role that some believed services like BlackBerry Messenger played in gangs getting organized to loot.

Update 2: One of our awesome readers in Lahore, Waqas Ali, sent us this screenshot:

Ali has also played a role in a past campaign in the country to keep Facebook from getting banned. He says that he cannot access Twitter at all right now but that a friend is able to use the Opera Mini browser to access the site.

Update 3: Here is a follow up post some back story on Prophet drawings, along with another theory: the blockage could be to do with Pakistan testing an image filtering service, which sounds even wider-ranging in its possibilities.

[Image: Farooq on Flickr]