Published on October 22nd, 2019 📆 | 8528 Views ⚑0
Intensified social media monitoring on the cards
As news of the tragic deaths of four persons, seemingly over a rumour on social media, unfolded in Bhola district on Sunday, the massive problem of unsubstantiated rumours spreading through social media came to the fore again. Since the wave of student-led protests in Bangladesh last year, the government has tightened its grip over social media sites, especially Facebook. Yet, incidents like the Bhola tragedy continue to occur because of vested interests.
“We have asked Facebook to provide the identities of those who were responsible for spreading the rumour that led to the Bhola incident. Unfortunately, Facebook is an American company and we have no control over them. So, getting the information takes time,” Mostafa Jabbar, minister for post and telecommunication, told The Independent.
Jabbar said that more than four crore people in Bangladesh have active Facebook accounts. He also said that about one crore Bangladeshis live outside the country. “There are constraints in monitoring such a huge number of people,” he added.
The minister said he was not ready to restrict the use of social media in Bangladesh. “We are a democratic country and we don’t want to put any restrictions on social media. But we are trying to monitor online activities as much as possible,” he added.
He explained that the government in recent months cleared projects that would enable the authorities to keep a close watch on social networking platforms. Among these is a USD 11-million project to create a special wing in the Bangladesh Computer Security Incident Response Team, a government body tasked with looking into cyber threats. The special wing would monitor social media and identify material that goes against the interests of the state, the minister told The Independent.
“We’ll monitor social media, check rumours, and locate their sources,” Jabbar said. The government also wants Facebook not to allow the posting of information that is against the state, he added.
From April to August last year, the country was gripped by recurring agitations. During April and May, university students organised multiple protests against quotas in government jobs, which reserve 56 per cent of positions for various categories, leaving only
44 per cent of posts for general candidates. Then, throughout July and until August 8, there were a series of agitations demanding road safety measures. The protests were sparked after two high school students were killed by a speeding bus in the capital on June 29.
Social media played a key role in drumming up support for both movements. Facebook, in particular, was used to schedule protests and meetings and encourage people to take to the streets. However, the platform was also reportedly used to spread rumours and misinformation, including false reports of students being raped and killed.
The government responded to these protests with a massive crackdown that led to widespread arrests. After the protests ended, a government representative called on an official from Facebook and had a long meeting with him, Jabbar said.
On June 12 last year, the government had cleared a plan to procure equipment worth USD 28 million for mobile phone, email, and social media surveillance. This technology would help ramp up the operations of the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre.
The deal reportedly allows the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre to buy equipment from international firms for remote call interception, to monitor the deep web, and for content blocking and filtering, among other things.
In June 2016, the government also reached an arrangement with Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. According to this, the government can request any information from these tech giants in case of an “unexpected incident” and the information requested has to be provided within 48 hours.
“Aside from the spreading of rumours, a lot of anti-state activities were conducted using these platforms. So, we have decided to take action to prevent such activities in the future. We are upgrading our agencies with modern equipment,” Jabbar said.