Earlier this month, Pakistani bureaucrat Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) successfully convinced Twitter to remove “blasphemous” and “unethical” content from the site in Pakistan, including images of the Prophet Muhammed, political speech, and the NSFW photos on three adult performers’ accounts.
The removal of the “blasphemous” content in Pakistan prompted outrage among Internet freedom activists, with Electronic Frontiers Foundation global policy analyst Eva Galperin writing that Twitter was betraying "its own fundamental values” by failing to uphold its commitment to free speech. Now, so-called Duke porn star Belle Knox, whose account was one of those censored in Pakistan, is joining the fray in condemning the PTA and Twitter for suppressing digital freedom of expression.
“I believe Mr. Batin has a problem with me because for whatever reason, I am his poster child: a woman with her own agency and free expression, some icon of perceived cultural degeneration that he feels he can censor to feel better about himself,” Knox recently wrote in an email to Forbes. “If he thinks I am a soft target, he’s going to be surprised.”
It’s unclear why Batin targeted Knox’s account specifically; after all, it’s doubtful that Knox, who made headlines earlier this year for a series of xoJane essays she wrote about her experience being slut-shamed and harassed on campus, has much of a following in the predominantly Muslim country, which has made a series of concerted efforts to block access to online porn. But then again:
Shout out to all my fans in Pakistan : the PTA might not like me, but I like you! <3— Belle Knox (@belle_knox) May 28, 2014
Knox herself acknowledges that the removal of the photos on her account pales in comparison to the widespread censorship of political thought and speech throughout the country: “My own curtailment of free expression in Pakistan seems very small on the greater world stage, where political groups based in sovereign countries are being silenced,” she writes.
But like many of the free speech activists who spoke out against Twitter ceding to the PTA’s demands to restrict content on the Internet, Knox believes that the censorship of her account sets a dangerous precedent, possibly curtailing the growth of future social media activism on the platform.
“Twitter likes to state that it is an instrument for positive social change but whenever it serves to enable oppression any good it does is erased a thousand fold,” she writes. “The precedent that this action sets is troubling: If Pakistan can censor people on Twitter for offensive content, presumably it could do so for revolutionary content among the people of Pakistan as a method of social control.”