Be careful about stepping on religious taboos when entering a foreign market. Nearly two months after a Pakistani court temporarily banned social network Facebook because it didn’t take down an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” Facebook Page, a clone called BuddyFlick has sprouted.
It looks like a carbon-copy of the social network, sans Fan Pages with drawings of Mohammed, which are considered blasphemous by many Muslims because such pictures are believed to lead to idol worship.
“BuddyFlick.com officially launched in response to Facebook’s shameful act,” said 27-year-old co-founder Yousaf Fayyaz, who works out of Lahore, Pakistan. “Being a Muslim, I cannot tolerate such an act, which is against our religion and against our beloved Prophet Hazrat Muhammad.” (Fayyaz’s own profile says, “We hate Facebook.”)
Fayyaz says he has worked as a developer for at least four years since graduating with honors in computer science. He funded the project himself and has been working with three other developers. They launched the site at the end of May when the court came down with a ban on Facebook.
When we met with the head of Facebook’s international growth team last week, the company explained that sensitive decisions like these happen on a case-by-case basis. It’s not an easy decision to make. You can respect religious customs and inflame free speech activists. Or you can respect free speech and inflame the estimated 1.57 billion Muslims around the world. In general, the company errs on the side of free speech, not wanting to impede on the freedom of users to talk or share about whatever they want. But they have made adjustments. Germany, for example, has certain laws restricting Nazi content.
Still, these choices can have big ramifications, especially as Facebook looks for growth in emerging markets. Even though the Pakistani court eventually lifted the restrictions after Facebook pledged to curb access to the offensive content in the country, the social network has suffered with a net loss of 300,000 active users in the country. InsideFacebook said Pakistan had 2.2 million users as of June. Today, the count stands at 1.9 million. (More users than that may have gone inactive or quit if others signed up.)