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Indonesia threatens WhatsApp blockage as Afghanistan backs down from its threat

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WhatsApp is really getting under the skin of the authorities in certain Asian and African countries. Just in the last couple days, there has been a move to block the service in Indonesia, and Afghan authorities have had to deny reports that they were planning to do the same. Last month it was China, and shortly before that it was Cameroon.

The reasons for these shutdown attempts are varied, though they all point to the same basic issue: the supposed negative effect of unfettered communication on social order. So let’s examine these recent incidents more closely, starting with the latest threat.

On Monday, Semuel Pangerapan, the director general of Indonesia’s communications ministry, said WhatsApp would be blocked within 48 hours if the platform did not expunge “obscene” GIFs that are provided by third parties. The GIF keyboard provider Tenor has already been blocked in the country, but people can access such services through the popular messaging app, which has around 69 million users in Indonesia.

The core problem here, of course, is that WhatsApp’s messages are encrypted, so the service provider doesn’t know what people are putting into them. So WhatsApp has been telling the Indonesian authorities to go talk to the third-party GIF providers.

Here’s what WhatsApp said:

“We are not able to monitor GIFs on WhatsApp since content is end-to-end encrypted. We’ve directed the Indonesia government to work with these third-party providers to review their content.”

Pangerapan is not amused. “The GIFs appeared in their apps. Why do we have to be the one speaking to the third party? They are supposed to be the ones managing it,” he said.

A few months ago, Indonesia threatened

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