So, there I was writing an article on blasphemy and censorship (my Observer column, to be published tomorrow), when an email from Twitter Legal dropped into my inbox. It began:
We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received official correspondence regarding your Twitter account, @kenanmalik.
The correspondence claims that the following Tweet, is illegal:
The tweet to which it refers was a link to the Jesus and Mo cartoon shown at the top. The email continued:
Twitter has not taken any action on the reported content at this time. We are only writing to inform you of content posted to your account which has been mentioned in a complaint.
We may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.
It is, I think, a standard Twitter legal notice. I have no idea who complained or why. Pandaemonium has already banned in Pakistan after WordPress received an email from the ‘Web Analysis Team’ of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) that claimed ‘The webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan’. The PTA claimed, too, that Pandaemonium is ‘in violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan’. It ordered WordPress to block access to my website in Pakistan in order ‘to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world’. Which is why readers in Pakistan can no longer access Pandaemonium.
The Twitter complaint may also be from Pakistan, but Twitter has so provided no details. I have written to Twitter in response:
Thank you for your email informing me about a complaint that my tweet linking to a Jesus and Mo cartoon was ‘illegal’. I would appreciate it if you could provide more details about who made the complaint and for what reason.
I cannot see anything illegal or, in the slightest sense reprehensible or problematic, about either the tweet or the cartoon. The cartoon is making a perfectly valid point in a perfectly reasonable way. Any legal jurisdiction that would ban such a tweet can itself only be described as reprehensible and problematic.
I have no intention of ‘voluntarily removing the content’. And if Twitter were forcibly to remove the tweet, it would suggest not only that it holds no brief for freedom of expression, but that it appears no longer to believe in hosting public conversation or debate either. I hope that is not the case, and that Twitter continues to provide a valuable public service.
I will keep you informed of any developments.