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Twitter removes account of human rights activist (2018)

Summary: Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen is a human rights activist in Pakistan, calling attention to unfair treatment of the Pashtun ethnic group, of which he is a member. In 2018, days after he led a rally in support of the Pashtun people in front of the Mochi Gate in Lahore, his Twitter account was suspended.

A number of human rights activists and other supporters of Pashteen quickly began to use Twitter to ask the company, and CEO Jack Dorsey, why Pashteen’s account was suspended.

Decisions to be made by Twitter:

  • How do you distinguish human rights activists organizing protests from users trying to foment violence?
  • How do you weigh reports from governments against activists who criticize the governments making the reports?
  • How responsive should you be to users calling out suspensions they feel were unfair or mistaken?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • Governments that are criticized by activists often accuse those activists of being “terrorists” or trying to foment violence. Is it possible to have a policy that distinguishes different types of protests and protest movements?
  • Can shutting down the accounts of activists harm important causes?

Resolution: Twitter quickly restored Pashteen’s account in response to the outcry, though no public explanation of either the takedown or return was provided. Pashteen has continued to speak out in Pakistan, as well as to organize protests. Following one such protest in January of 2020, Pashteen was arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy and sedition.

At the time of this case study, it appears he is still facing those charges, though his Twitter account remains active with efforts to organize more protests and get the Pashtun people to protest government actions that have harmed them.

Written by The Copia Institute, December 2020

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