Perils of Social Media in Afghanistan & Thailand

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An Early Dirge for Facebook in Afghanistan?

POTOMAC, Md. — Behind the closed doors of Afghanistan’s national security council, politicians and policymakers discussed a serious matter: should the war-torn country ban Facebook? Mark Zuckerberg’s revolutionary and controversial social media platform has served as a playground for angry and fervent Afghans to air hate speech and derogatory remarks.

The country — in the midst of investigating an allegedly fraud-filled election — is concerned that the existence and abuse of such a social media soapbox will only further the ethnic tensions and civil unrest that the presidential election has uncovered.

The final but unconfirmed results place Ashraf Ghani as the new president to succeed incumbent Hamad Karzai. The former World Bank official, supported by millions of Pashtuns, received one million more votes than his Tajik-supported opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, in the final runoff — for which an astounding and unprecedented eight million votes were counted.

But Abdullah, alongside many independent observers, has cried foul play.

In April, the first round of voting ended and gave way to a second round during which support for Ghani — according to the number of ballots cast for him — ballooned. Votes increased by a factor of 10 in the central Wardak province and by six in Southern Kandahar, results that first drew concerns of fraudulent voting.

Abdullah has led a charge in calling for stricter checks of voting.

In April, 2,000 polling stations were investigated for fraud and fewer than 12,000 ballots were discarded — too low a number for many critics of the independent election commission.

Pending a conclusion to the investigations, final election results will be revealed July 24, and the new president — either Ghani, the Pashtun or Abdullah, the Tajik — will be sworn into office on August 2.

Thailand’s Fight Against Orwell

A Thai man sat on a bench, leafing through a book, scanning each page with intent eyes and a relaxed contentment before a group of undercover officers carried him away. His crime: he was reading George Orwell’s 1984 in public.

Reading Orwell’s book has become the unhappy citizen’s preferred method of protesting against the repressive Thai junta that usurped power in May by way of a military coup.

A 10 p.m. curfew has been put into place. Gatherings of five or more are strictly prohibited. And dissenters — like the Orwell fan — are swiftly arrested.

But in its latest move, the Thai junta has finally grown into its Big Brother caricature. In hopes of surveying citizens, the new government placed Facebook login buttons on hundreds of websites, restricting their access only to users who share personal data like email addresses.

The new practice comes after the government invited many social media companies, including Facebook, to discuss censorship of dissenters. Every company refused to come to the meeting. After hearing of Thailand’s repressive manipulation of Facebook applications, Zuckerberg’s company suspended them for violating Facebook’s privacy rules.

In the end, Afghan national council-members decided against banning Facebook. They followed the United Nations lead of rebuking those Afghans who have resorted to using flagrant language — language that has recalled for many Afghans memories of the sectarian violence and boiling ethnic tensions that plagued the 1990s.

Shehrose Mian

Sources: Mother Jones, SCMP Asia, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Aljazeera
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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