Bangladesh govt using Facebook Social media 'blocked' for two weeks but many govt depts, AL leaders found active
The government itself is virtually defying its own ban on Facebook.
As the most popular social media platform Facebook’s suspension in Bangladesh went past two weeks, a number of ministers, lawmakers, ruling party leaders, high officials, and wings of different ministries were using the site almost regularly.
They posted photos, shared links, and updated their statuses in their official and personal accounts.
They were doing this even though the government had warned people about bypassing the ban and had labelled such circumvention of the ban was a violation of the law.
State Minister for ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak for example has updated and shared a few posts in his verified Facebook account after November 18, when the government blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber.
Palak’s division is under the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which blocked the social media platforms as a means to contain subversive militant activities and political violence centring the execution of two top war criminals.
On Friday at 3:40pm, Palak shared a photo of the BPO Summit. Before posting the photo, he updated his status saying that he was on Chalanbeel Singhra.
There were many Twitter posts which were also available on his Facebook page.
Palak denied sharing anything on Facebook.
“I am not using Facebook. But my Facebook account is synced with Twitter. And whatever I’ve posted on Twitter is uploaded on Facebook automatically,” he told The Daily Star.
A Facebook user, wishing anonymity and fearing reprisal, said, “These people are sharing posts for whom? Is it for terrorists or for the general people?
“Don’t the criminals and terrorists know how to log on to Facebook by proxy servers? It’s just a farce,” the user said.
Facebook use began in Bangladesh around the second half of 2006 but now it has 1.8 crore users and counting.
When the government suspended Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber, most users saw the move to be ridiculous.
There were hundreds of apps, some encrypted, for phones which allow users to bypass the block, not to mention Virtual Private Network (VPN) that were built-in in most modern computers and all smartphones.
Facebook had not only become a part of life but also the main hub for social and business relationships. The suspension was hurting businesses badly.
Facebook users and the entrepreneurs called on the government to improve its use of technology to fight crime since criminals and terrorists could bypass and encrypt their communication on Facebook any way.
Mustafa Jabbar, former president of Bangladesh Computer Samity, said “The home ministry might have the ground to block Facebook, but I don’t find any rationale. What the ministries are saying as the justification for suspending Facebook is vague.”
Experts in the digital sphere found no rationale behind the suspension. They said at best the platform could be used for spreading propaganda.
However, there were some ministers and ruling party leaders who have not used Facebook after the suspension.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, and Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Mahbubul Hoque Shakil were among them. They were all avid Facebook users.
However, many other government high-ups were not following them.
Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal Lotus updated his profile picture with a logo of Comilla Victorians, one of the teams of Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), on Saturday.
Zahid Ahsan Russel, a lawmaker from Gazipur and chief of parliamentary standing committee on youth and sports, was another keen Facebook user. On Sunday, he updated his status on a views-exchanging meeting on building U-shaped loops from Gazipur intersection to Hatirjheel.
Contacted, Zahid said, “I don’t know what to say. Actually I do not have any answer. Perhaps it’s because of my habit.”
Ashraful Alam Khokan, deputy press secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), was another regular user of Facebook. He frequently updated his profile pictures in the last few days. The last one he updated was on Tuesday.
Immediately after the election of Dhaka Reporters’ Unity, the official Facebook page of the Press Wing of the PMO congratulated the winners on Monday.
Bangladesh Cricket Board was not lagging behind either. The board was issuing updates of the BPL matches and match fixtures on its Facebook page.
The VAT Intelligence, a government organisation, uploaded a picture on Sunday about a drive they conducted at a restaurant.
Two pictures of two different events were uploaded on the official Facebook page of Dhaka University. One of the pictures, uploaded on Thursday, was about a report launching ceremony.
The ruling Awami League made several posts on its official Facebook page on November 20, two days after the suspension. However, no posts had been made since.
Pretty much all embassies and high commissions in Dhaka and almost all media outlets have also continued their use of Facebook through out the suspension.
A student of Dhaka University who had been using Facebook for the last five years said the move contradicts the government’s vision to build “Digital Bangladesh”.
Mustafa Jabbar said the internet had become the “lifeline of modern life, businesses and offices”. “I don’t support restricting any technology that people use for their own welfare.
“I don’t think it is not possible to capture criminals by blocking the social media. Moreover, I have no information that the government has been able to catch any criminal using this technology.”
Jabbar said people use Facebook not only for chatting and sharing things but also to get news on multifaceted issues, including jobs and education. Facebook has become a commerce platform in Bangladesh.
“Restriction on Facebook for last two weeks has created a disturbance in the public sphere and is damaging the image of the government,” he said.
Small entrepreneurs said the shutdown had massively affected their business.
Around 7,500 active Facebook pages were doing business in the country and there were 600 web pages also running online businesses, according to e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB).
Afsana Shorme, an entrepreneur, said the sale in her boutique business plummeted because of the suspension and she would have to virtually close shop if the ban continued.
“I will not ask the government to lift the ban. I will just say that Facebook is not just a place for entertainment or means of communication for criminals. It is a place where many Bangladeshis found employment and many families live on,” she said.
Tarana Halim, state minister of post and telecommunications division, could not be reached for comments last night despite repeated attempts.
The Daily Star