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Pakistan: Twitter Reactions to the SMS Filtering Announcement

The Pakistan Telecom Authority's (PTA) possible attempt at SMS filtering for abusive contents, has had Twitter timelines flooded with reactions, mostly humorous. In a bid to enforce morality, the PTA has issued two lists containing over 1,000 ‘abusive words’ in English and 550 words in Urdu.

A scaned copy of the letter along with the lists has gone viral online and on Twitter it has generated an interesting response and attracted media attention.

The letter, dated November 14, 2011, suggests that SMS filtering should be considered under the “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009″, it contains a reference to a meeting held on the same issue with mobile phone operators on the 18 October, in the capital, Islamabad. The letter was issued by Muhammad Talib Doger, Director General (Services) of PTA.

Cartoon by Jay Toons. Used with permission

Cartoon by Jay Toons. Used with permission

Interestingly, one of the first reactions to the list came from a politician, Faisal Sabzwari:

@faisalsubzwari: :D :D :D just read PTA's letter 2 Telecoms and list of Urdu and English words ordered 2 b filtered, OMG khazana e mughalizzat :D #Pakistan

@faisalsubzwari: Whoever wants 2 enjoy, send me email id

From what at first seemed to be one of the most comprehensive compilation of cuss words the list soon became subject to curiosity and a laughing stock with addition of words like “athletes foot”, “tongue”, “mango”, “taxi”  ”murder”, “rape” and even “Jesus Christ”.

Here are some of the reactions from across the Twittersphere:

@nikelb: I feel my parents really did raised me well after reading the #PTABan list. I don't know 90% of these words and I thought I live to cuss.

@jadoon88: So you can't SMS people to work harder in Pakistan anymore. #PTABan

@samadk: Now instead of typing the whole gaali you just need to send the number. Thank you PTA for making is even lazier. #PTAbannedlist#YouAre341E

@karachikhatmal: The #PTABannedList is what Charles Dickens would have wrote if he lived in Federal-B-Area right now.

@karachikhatmal: It occurred to me that the #PTABannedListwas compiled using existing SMSes – making it an invaluable historical documentation of our times.

@Jemima_Khan: I'm going to make sure I include “monkey crotch” in every text to Pakistani friends from this day forth…

@talhawynne: BREAKING: The #PTABannedList is actually a list of names the chairman of PTA was known by in his school days and his neighborhood.

@hafsahsyed: Dear PTA, your #PTABannedList of words is wonderful. It has increased our abuse vocabulary exponentially. Thank you for educating us!

@shahidsaeed: The #PTABannedList is also an excellent opportunity for our street language and slang to evolve and grow by coming up with newer abuses

@muqadir: Restricting the youth from voicing their opinions by txt msgs is a new low that PTA has stooped to using #PTABannedList!

@baylinveil: The #PTAbannedlist was hilarious when it came out. It's not funny anymore when it's being used by non-Pakistanis to make fun of Pakistanis.

@nighatdad: It seems that each & every SMS will B filtered by mobile companies & will B delivered 2 other party only if it passes the filter list. #PTA

Two Twitter accounts @PTAbannedlist and @notextpaki were also set up.

There’s also been much debate about the ways in such extensive filtering could be implemented. With the PTA’s history of moral policing (an earlier crack down on porn), one can be sure that the ban will be implemented even if not in its entirety. A recent announcement confirms the same.

The PTA has now taken back its announcement on the ban, stating that it was only a ‘preliminary’ list and that they have decided to shelve it after facing strong opposition from civil society. However, as the website Outsports points out, it is interesting to note that the list was copied off a list of words that are not allowed to printed on NFL [American 'National Football League'] jerseys. This explains the presence of words like “Jesus Christ”, “Athletes Foot” and “Neon Deon”.

So even though the PTA has decided to shelve the ban for now, there's no telling if they will come up with an edited and more relevant version of the list determined to morally police text messaging in Pakistan.

Thumbnail image courtesy @notextinPakistan

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