Yesterday, Facebook blocked an Uddari post containing my poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’ on basis of it being ‘spammy’ or ‘unsafe’. View the details here:
I am grateful to Uddari readers, my peers in the writing community, and Facebook friends for responding to my ‘urgent’ message by checking out the links from different places, searching the poem on the Net, sending messages of support, and sharing ideas on what to do next. In particular, my warmest regards to Qayyum Khosa, Khalid Toor, Sarwar Sukhera, Shahid Mirza, Janet Kvammen, Ihsan Ul haq, Kadri Pereira, Chaman Lal, Surjeet Kalsey, S. K. Alam, Valerie B.-Taylor, Hasan N. Gardezi, Rajesh Sharma, and Cesar Love for rapid responses and for staying with it.
As this activity was taking place, and you can view a part of it on my timeline at Facebook, the block on the poem was lifted. Link to my timeline:
The block may have lasted a couple of hours but it has left us with a few important questions. Like most questions, these are about How and Why if not Who, Where and When. How did it come about that this particular poem was blocked in the first place? Are there certain words that Facebook filters catch onto, and if so, what are those? And then, why this particular poem raised some alarm and faced a block when many other poems have not raised/faced any?
So, let’s look at the possible keywords that could have caused some concern. It can’t be ‘pakistan’, ‘mock’ or ‘oscar’ because we are not where it can matter to anyone. Sure isn’t the ‘vegetarian menu’ or the ‘lush green/ forest’. ‘US-NATO’, ‘Daisy-Cutter’, ‘BLU-82, 1500lb.’, ‘(ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, polystyrene) bomb’ may be. Or may be it’s ‘extreme violence,/disfigurements, deaths, causing irreparable damage/to body and spirit,’.
Second guessing the keywords is one thing, but the first thought is that it was a robot or a software filter that flagged it, but if so, why did it not flag it on June 5 when it was published at Uddari and shared at Facebook. Why did the filter flag/block it on June 7?
Valerie B.-Taylor, the president of New West Writers who came searching to Uddari to read the poem, said to me on the phone, ‘The poem has nothing pornographic, graphic, racist, sexist or homophobic, and it does not incite hatred or violence. There is no reason for anyone to block it.’ She also said another important thing: ‘By blocking you, they are blocking me because i can’t share the poem either.’ As Khalid toor concludes it, ‘Believe that no one can stop the voice of Truthfulness’.
More likely, some ‘humans’ did not like the content of the poem as opposed to the robots not liking some keywords in it.
We better be ready.