Media platforms

Report – Kashmir Media Service

Washington, September 29 (KMS): New report from Stand With Kashmir, a US-based nonprofit, highlights the complicity of social media platforms in digital censorship of Kashmiris inside Jammu-et – Illegally occupied Indian Kashmir and overseas since 2017.

Social media giants are complicit in “Kashmir’s digital rights erasure and the ongoing digital blackout in Kashmir,” according to a new report by rights group Stand With Kashmir (SWK).

Since 2017, tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have been accused of continuously silencing Kashmiris online by removing content and suspending accounts. According to the SWK report, Big Tech has engaged in “algorithmic manipulation of critical content of India’s military occupation and settler colonialism in the region.”

As the advent of social media transformed the realm of political activism in Indian-administered Kashmir, the freedom of speech and expression of Kashmiris inside and outside Kashmir has been systematically suppressed, adds The report.

“Facebook and Twitter have continuously sided with the militarization of law and politics by Indian authorities to curb Kashmir-related reporting and activism in the digital space,” SWK wrote.

The nonprofit says it used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to carry out its study, including polls, a detailed survey and interviews with prominent Kashmiri social media influencers.

An online survey of SWK’s 32,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram was conducted, where users were asked what platforms they were censored on.

Of the 311 responses, 62% said they had experienced some form of censorship on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In another Instagram poll where 140 responses were recorded, 19% said they were censored on Twitter, 25% on Facebook and 44% on Instagram.

Based on these methods, SWK was able to gain an in-depth understanding of the impacts of censorship; the potential relationship of the Indian state to the censorship body; and recommendations to platforms to restore trust with the Kashmiris.

Suppress digital dissent

Kashmiri users have been censored in various ways as their accounts have been deactivated, suspended and permanently deleted.

Users said social media platforms offered “dishonest technical reasons” for censoring their accounts, and often did not resolve censorship issues they faced in a timely manner.

The report highlighted how the censorship suffered by Kashmiri users has impacted their “confidence in the political neutrality” of the platforms.
In 2018, David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the company’s decision to censor content and profiles related to the Cashmere, indicating adherence to “government requests for content and account removal”.

In one case, documents leaked to the New York Times by Facebook employees revealed that Facebook is monitoring political discourse globally. In an overtly pro-government strategy, Facebook is asking moderators to censor the phrase “Free Kashmir” and to consider content that calls for the liberation of Kashmir as illegal in India.

Additionally, in a leaked internal review on the rise of online censorship, Google employees noted how Facebook and Twitter “have been implicated in censoring clashes between rebels and Indian authorities in Kashmir … highlighting the complicity of the platform with government censorship ”.

Digital repression reached a new high after New Delhi abrogated Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status on August 5, 2019, as Kashmiris were completely excluded from the network with a communications blockade – with the internet, cellphones and even the fixed connectivity prohibited.

Eventually, communications were restored, but with only 2G internet, which was so weak that Kashmiris could barely attend online classes during the pandemic. Fears of digital surveillance have also led to an increase in online self-censorship.

The Kashmir model becomes national
Meanwhile, the digital gagging model of Kashmiris has now proliferated, with frightening consequences for all Indian users online.

In July 2020, the Indian state formalized a set of policies long used to clamp down on journalists and publishers in Kashmir in a policy directive called MediaPolicy-2020. The guidelines give government officials the power to determine whether the content involves “unethical or anti-national activity” and to take legal action if necessary.

By repudiating the principles of net neutrality, the federal government can now choose to hold social media companies accountable for posted content deemed objectionable within 36 hours of receiving notification.

During a devastating second wave of Covid-19, a number of Indian social media users – not just Kashmiris – and rights groups have also experienced an escalation in attacks, with social media companies taking measures on publications deemed critical to the government’s management of the pandemic, often at the request of New Delhi.
In its latest transparency report, Twitter said the Indian government was the second-largest source of requests for account information – 21% of global requests – and the fifth-largest source of account deletion requests, which increased by 254 % during the last reference period.

Requests
The SWK report highlighted various strategies for social media companies to tackle current censorship issues.

First, he recommended that all deleted content and suspended accounts be immediately reinstated, as this violates international standards of free speech.
Second, he called for a human rights impact assessment of the situation in Kashmir and the history of telecommunications blockages. SWK believes India is occupying Kashmir with its military might.

He further called for an investigation into reports of “computer cells” being deployed to create disinformation and suppress marginalized voices in the digital space.
Hire fact checkers; suspend the use of AI mechanisms to review Kashmir-related content; Making detailed information about content or government deletion requests publicly available were among the other recommendations.

The need to increase investment in moderation of Hindi content and to create a database on hate speech and Islamophobic terminology that harm Kashmiris and others in India was also mentioned. KMS — 15K


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