Tensions between the freewheeling, anything-goes nature of online culture and conservative moral regimes continues to simmer, as this weekend Saudi Arabia briefly blocked access to Facebook, apparently amid concerns content available via the service was offensive under the nation’s conservative moral values. However, within a few hours, Facebook was once again accessible within the country, leading to speculation whether the ban was just a temporary glitch, possibly due to Saudi Arabia testing filtering technology, or a deliberate outage meant to serve as a warning to Saudi Facebook users.
Over the weekend, a representative of the Saudi communications authority indicated access to Facebook had been intentionally blocked, saying that content on the service had “crossed a line” while describing the ban as a temporary measure. Users attempting to connect to Facebook during the ban received an error message. However, within a few hours, Facebook was again accessible.
It’s possible specific content or users that prompted the ban had been removed from the service or that officials quickly reversed course on a decision to block the site. It’s also possible the ban was the result of a technical glitch. Neither the Saudi government nor Facebook have yet commented on the events.
The incident highlights tension between the culture of an open Internet and governments that attempt to regulate and control content available to citizens—whether the motives for that regulation are primarily political (as in China) or driven by religious views (as in some Islamic countries).
Earlier this year, both Pakistan and Bangladesh temporarily blocked access to Facebook over an “Everybody Draw Muhammad” day. In Islam, any representation of the prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous.