In an effort to stem the tide of mockery on social networks in Pakistan that followed a New York Times report exposing its role in peddling fake diplomas online, the Pakistani company Axact threatened on Monday to sue a local blog, Pak Tea House, merely for rounding up Twitter reaction to the exposé.
The publication of the article prompted more than 6,500 responses on Twitter using the hashtag #Axact, according to data compiled by Brandwatch, a technology company that tracks discussions on social media. The company noted that there were eight times as many negative mentions as positive.
Not long after Malik Omaid, a Pak Tea House blogger, posted a selection of comments, jokes and memes culled from Twitter, the blog’s founder, Raza Rumi, reported that lawyers for Axact had served him with a nine-point legal notice threatening to sue for defamation if he did not “immediately take down the links” to tweets mocking the company. In addition, the lawyers demanded that Pak Tea House’s editor issue “an unconditional apology and retraction for your illegal, defamatory, slanderous and malicious actions.”
Among the messages that so offended Axact’s lawyers were a series of memes riffing off Bollywood movies posted on Twitter by Muzammal Afzal. In one, an older character advises a younger man, “Leave it son, this is not your cup of tea. Get a degree from #Axact.”
In another, a character says: “Degree upon degree, degree upon degree. We only get degrees, #Axact-ly of which field, this we do not know.”
Mixed in with Twitter comments making fun of the company for its fictional network of educational establishments were messages of support posted by defenders, including Kamran Khan, the editor in chief of the company’s new media venture, Bol. Mr. Khan’s defense of his new network’s parent company came in the form of an attack on The Times, which, he suggested, exposed wrongdoing in Pakistan only because of a bias against the country.
Some of the reaction to the revelations about the company included questions about why Pakistani journalists like Mr. Khan had not exposed the scheme themselves.
Brandwatch, the social media analytics firm, reported that the company’s outraged statement on the report prompted just a handful of tweets tagged #Axactresponse, but those messages were quickly retweeted more than a thousand times.
Some of those responses suggested that the only possible motivation for the report was an even wider conspiracy against Pakistan.
Free speech advocates in Pakistan were disappointed last year when Twitter briefly agreed to honor government requests to block access locally to crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and three American pornographic film stars. The company eventually restored access to those messages, but the implication that Pakistani bloggers could be sued for defamation just for sharing links to a New York Times report alarmed activists and reporters.
Far from caving to the pressure, the Pak Tea House editor, Mr. Rumi, joined in the mockery of Axact’s network of faux universities.