Facebook has shut down a prominent pro-Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Facebook page, ‘Kula Yellow’, without notice.
The anti-government page was first established in May 2010 and spread by word of mouth, attracting a strong following among Maldivian young people and reaching 23,000 ‘ likes’. Facebook did not contact the administrators before shutting down the popular social media news source, at approximately 6:30pm on Tuesday, March 5.
According to an analysis conducted by Kula Yellow on the site Social Bakers, the youth-run, self-described “name and shame” platform is one of the most popular social media news sources in the Maldives.
Kula Yellow is a reference to MDP’s political party color. The page promises a “source of information against President Mohamed Waheed regime and a tool to mobilise people against continued human rights abuses and police brutality.”
“MDP is fighting for freedom. Kula Yellow facilitates that by providing a platform for them to spread their views, organise protests and events, and it is very helpful if any message needs to be conveyed to supporters instantaneously,” a Kula Yellow co-founder told Minivan News.
“We are updating and uploading media of police and government brutality 24 hours a day. Our posts have revealed many, many, many government secrets and they can’t digest it. Kula Yellow is a threat to them,” he claimed.
“Additionally we have saved many, many, many lives through our social work. For example, if anyone – they don’t have to be an MDP supporter – needs a blood donation we post on the page to find a matching donor,” the co-founder added.
Although the page has never been shut down before, five of the most active administrators have had their personal accounts blocked or shut down since former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation February 7, 2012, a Kula Yellow co-founder and administrator told Minivan News.
“Some of the most active administrators’ have been blocked several times following the coup. This was a problem for us on the release date of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) as well. The current Maldivian government cannot digest anything we are reporting and they are subsequently blocking media freedom,” he contended.
“I’m sure it’s a government act. They are sending continuous complaint reports to Facebook saying Kula Yellow is ‘spreading lies and inciting violence’, but that is not true,” the co-founder stated.
“There are only two or three news media outlets, and newspapers Haveeru and Sun Online back the current government,” he added. “Kula Yellow fills a gap by trying to explain the coup and give a voice to Maldivian people. The government didn’t like what we were posting and cannot come down on us under Maldivian law. Of course they are trying to block us, I’m sure they formally complained to Facebook,” the administrator stated.
“Maldivian intelligence from the Police Services and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) monitor [telecommunications companies] Dhiraagu and Wataniya calls and text messages. They are always trying to intercept communications,” the Kula Yellow administrator said, matter-of-factly.
A second Kula Yellow administrator explained there were many admins spread throughout the Maldives, and they took down inappropriate content, such as threats or misinformation.
“Kula Yellow is very open because it’s a social media platform for the public, so on the rare occasion someone puts inappropriate content on the ‘wall’ the administrators take it down immediately. We try our best,” he said.
“We are not like the many hate pages that supporters of Waheed’s government have up – all of which are up and running smoothly,” he said.
“We will interfere”: police
Police denied issuing complaints about Kula Yellow to Facebook, but admitted to telecommunications interference.
Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that “so far we haven’t reported anything to Facebook”.
“We will interfere if any social network or internet site is not [run] according to Maldivian law and order,” Haneef added.
The MNDF also denied interfering with the Kula Yellow page, as Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem explained to Minivan News.
“We have not asked anyone to take down Kula Yellow, not to my knowledge. Was it the communications ministry or something like that? They can say anything,” Raheem said.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad denied knowledge of Kula Yellow’s existence, as well as any government interference with it being shut down.
“I have never heard about this Kula Yellow thing that you are talking about. We [the government] do not worry about these pages. How do you know Facebook took it down? Facebook is too big to worry about small little pages. The fact that the page has been taken down has nothing to do with the government,” Masood said.
“Maybe they themselves took it down. If their page has been hacked, or shut down maybe the page owners can follow it up with Facebook,” said Masood.
In 2012, administrators of Kula Yellow claimed they had been “threatened” by police over their page’s content. Police officials denied the accusations.
Kula Yellow contacted Facebook immediately to reinstate the page and say they remain hopeful their page will be restored quickly.
“Yesterday’s action seemed to be a targeted response to the regime’s arbitrary arrest of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed,” stated Kula Yellow.
“Kula Yellow is disappointed by the action taken against the page by Facebook and calls for them to immediately reconsider and place their support with the people of the Maldives.”
A Kula Yellow co-founder lamented that the situation in the Maldives was very complex and contend that Facebook “clearly does not understand Kula Yellow.”
“Facebook did not check to verify what the government, or individuals from the government regime, were reporting. They were probably following their company policy to remove the page if they received numerous complaints.
“This happened in Syria also. Then journalists reported the story and helped get the page(s) reinstated,” a Kula Yellow co-founder stated.
Kula Yellow is exhorting diplomats and international actors to “understand that this is a violation of our human rights, particularly freedom of expression, and should support Facebook reinstating the Kula Yellow page immediately”.
“There are already many fake Kula Yellow Facebook pages going up and this will continue to spread like wildfire in the jungle. The government can’t stop us. We don’t give a damn. There are a thousand ways to move forward, so well will just find another way.
“In the interim our Twitter page is active,” a Kula Yellow administrator added.
The Maldives this year plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.
Additionally, the Maldives is one of two countries to be dropped from Freedom House’s list of electoral democracies, in its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.
Facebook had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.