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Pakistan “Cracks” down on Social Media, Government takes stern actions

The current crackdown has revived memories of the disappearances this year of at least five bloggers

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Pakistani youth is protesting against government. Wikimedia
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Islamabad, May 26, 2017: Taha Siddiqui was relaxing in his living room with his son after work when he received a telephone call. On the other end of the line was a man claiming to be with the counterterrorism department of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. The man, who Siddiqui said identified himself as Nadeem Bodla, a deputy director of the counterterrorism wing in the FIA, told Siddiqui to “drop everything” and immediately report to his office.

“It wasn’t a courteous call,” Siddiqui recalled. “It was actually a call where he was talking from a point of authority. The tone was intimidating.”

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As a freelance journalist working with several international outlets, Siddiqui had been covering military affairs.

His work had drawn attention in the past. Journalists who did not know him would sometimes call and urge him to rethink what he was filing, telling him authorities thought he was overstepping a boundary.

This was the first time, though, that a government entity had officially approached him. The move concerned Siddiqui, who feared an arrest over “illegal charges” or the seizure of his equipment that could compromise his work and sources.

Others questioned, too

Others, namely political activists and opposition figures, had been called in for questioning based solely on their social media activity.

FILE - Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media.
FILE – Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media. VOA

One of them, Salar Sultanzai, tweeted from his handle @MeFixer that the FIA had told him to submit his cellphone and laptop for inspection.

Siddiqui decided to file a petition of harassment in the Islamabad High Court.

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Interior Minister Ali Khan, in a news conference this week, maintained that the steps taken by the FIA were legal. The constitution, Khan said, barred anyone from demeaning the country’s armed forces, its judiciary or its national religion, Islam.

“I assure you no one is putting any restrictions on social media,” Khan said, “but a free-for-all social media is also unacceptable for a democracy.”

He also said that only 27 social media identities and eight individuals had been identified for questioning and that no one had been arrested or harassed.

Party activists feel targeted

Opposition leader Imran Khan, whose PTI party held protests across the country this week, disagreed. He said the government was using excuses to crack down against activists from his party. Others from the party concurred.

“This is all political,” said Faisal Javed Khan of PTI. “It’s political victimization. They’re picking our guys because they have been highlighting [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif’s corruption.”

Another PTI activist, Shahzad Waseem, said the crackdown went against the norms of freedom of expression. “Unfortunately, the government in Pakistan is trying to curb the voice of civil society of Pakistan,” he added.

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The current crackdown has revived memories of the disappearances this year of at least five bloggers. Many in the country blamed the intelligence agency ISI for picking them up for having criticized the military in their social media posts.

A countrywide uproar led to their return, but they were afraid to speak up about what happened. Most of them and their families reportedly left the country soon afterward. At least one of them told the BBC he had been tortured for pleasure by a government institution linked to the military.

Rules for social media use

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Khan directed the relevant government departments to formulate a framework “which ensures that social media is used as a medium to facilitate positive, constructive and healthy interactions … and not as a tool to propagate false information, pass defamatory comments, ridicule or humiliate sacred personalities, national institutions or jeopardizing social, religious and cultural values of any community.”

He has also requested that the national assembly speaker reach out to all political parties over this issue.

Meanwhile, Siddiqui is waiting for his hearing next week to find out why he was approached over his journalistic work. (VOA)

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Slow Disclosure of Tesla Raising Governance, Social Media Concerns

In his blog, Musk said he made the announcement on Twitter to ensure all investors were aware of his plan before speaking with the company's largest shareholders

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Tesla CEO
FILE - Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., talks during a news conference at the company's headquarters in Fremont, California, Sept. 29, 2015. (VOA)

Tesla’s handling of Chief Executive Elon Musk’s proposal to take the carmaker private and its failure to promptly file a formal disclosure has raised governance concerns and sparked questions about how companies use social media.

Musk stunned investors last Tuesday by announcing on Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private in a potential $72 billion transaction and that “funding” had been “secured.”

Tesla’s shares closed up 11 percent before retrenching after the Wall Street Journalreported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had asked Tesla why Musk announced his plans on Twitter and whether his statement was truthful.

Musk provided no details of his funding until Monday, when he said in a blog on Tesla’s website that he was in discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and other potential backers but that financing was not yet nailed down.

Musk said his tweet and blogs were issued in his personal capacity as a private bidder for Tesla’s stock. A Tesla spokesman pointed Reuters to Musk’s blog in response to a request for comment.

Putting aside whether Musk misled anyone, the unorthodox manner in which he announced the news and Tesla’s failure to promptly clarify the situation with a regulatory filing is a corporate governance lapse that raises questions about how companies use social media to release market-moving news, securities lawyers said.

Tesla CEO
Tesla CEO and founder of the Boring Company Elon Musk speaks at a news conference in Chicago, June 14, 2018. (VOA)

“Management buyouts or other take-private transactions already suffer from serious information asymmetry between management and public shareholders,” said Gabriel Rauterberg, a University of Michigan law professor.

SEC rules typically require companies to file an 8-K form within four business days of a significant corporate event.

While several securities lawyers said Musk’s tweets alone did not trigger this obligation, such a filing would be prudent given the unusual circumstances, David Axelrod, a partner at law firm Ballard Spahr LLP, said.

“An 8-K would provide some more details, it would say what stage negotiations are in, and provide more information than 53 characters in a tweet,” he added.

Full and fair disclosure

SEC guidelines published in 2013 allow companies and their executives to use social media to distribute material information, provided investors have been alerted that this is a possibility. Tesla did this in a 2013 filing.

But such disclosures have to be full and fair, meaning the information is complete and accessible by all investors at the same time, a bar that Musk’s tweets may not have met.

“Twitter is not designed to provide full and fair disclosure. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t, but in a series of 20 to 30 characters I’m not sure you’re getting full disclosure,” said Zachary Fallon, a former SEC attorney and principal at law firm Blakemore Fallon.

 

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX. (VOA)

The SEC declined to comment Monday.

Securities lawyers said there was also a question mark over whether Musk selectively disclosed information on the possible terms of the deal when he subsequently replied to followers, two of whom claim in their handles to be investors.

Those tweets were not immediately visible to all followers of Musk’s main feed until he retweeted them.

History of Twitter use

The 47-year-old billionaire’s history of joking about Tesla and using twitter to bait his critics also appears to have undermined trust in Musk’s feed as a reliable source of company information, with many investors initially believing Tuesday’s tweet was a prank.

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In his blog, Musk said he made the announcement on Twitter to ensure all investors were aware of his plan before speaking with the company’s largest shareholders.

But his claim to have done so as a private person presents a potential conflict of interest, said Nimish Patel, a lawyer with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.

“If you’re speaking on behalf of the company using resources like Twitter and the company website, while at the same time saying you’re a private individual expressing your own personal views, you are being inconsistent and creating confusion for investors. And when there’s confusion, the SEC is likely going to get involved,” he added. (VOA)