LIBYA: Tripoli cracks down on 'sex-positive' URL shortener
Earlier this week, sex and tech writer Violet Blue took to her blog to announce the Libyan government had seized her URL shortening service vb.ly, "the Internet's first and only sex-positive URL shortener."
Cute little .ly domain names have been all the rage for a while now, but many casual users of similar URL-shortening services like bit.ly and ow.ly may not know that the .ly stands for Libya, or, as it's formally known, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
Vb.ly was intended as a "tolerant" service for sharing NSFW [not safe for work, i.e. porn] links, but did not actually provide graphic content (Unless you count the picture of Blue drinking a beer in a halter top on the homepage, which apparently the Libyan authorities did.)
Blue claims she was unaware that the terms of service, available in English on the website of the reseller that sold her the domain, included a section expressing forbidding anything considered contrary to "Libyan law or Islamic morality."
It remains somewhat unclear whether vb.ly, which Blue co-owns with another person, was shut down over the picture on the homepage or its explicit orientation. A letter from a Libyan telecomm official posted on Blue's webpage indicates it was probably a combination of the two.
"The issue of offensive imagery is quite subjective, as what I may deem as offensive you might not, but I think you’ll agree that a picture of a scantily clad lady with some bottle in her hand isn’t exactly what most would consider decent or family friendly at the least," said the letter that was posted on Blue's page.
"Now, had your domain merely been a URL shortener for general uses similar to bit.ly (as you claim) there would have been no problem with it," he continued. "It is when you promote your site being solely for adult uses, or even state that you are ‘adult friendly’ to promote it that we as a Libyan Registry have an issue."
On Friday, Libya's top domain registry posted an official statement focusing on vb.ly's "adult uses."
Jillian York, who writes about technology and the Arab world for Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said she was made aware of Libya's strict web rules some time ago by what she described as a "fairly racist" Twitter campaign dubbed .ly=Libya, which argued that using .ly sites was equivalent to supporting Sharia law.
"I think a lot of the reaction I have seen in the tech community and beyond...has been somewhat hysterical," she told Babylon & Beyond. "Whereas, you know, it's Libya."
The news hasn't created a huge splash on Arabic blogs and forums, perhaps because a site getting shut down for suggestive content isn't unusual in most Arab countries. But some were angered by the online backlash Libya's actions have provoked.
"Do not expect the West to understand the logic of religion and morals here," wrote the Arabic technology news website Teedoz.
"The fact is, it was up to the owners of the site to make sure they were not violating the regulations of the state, which it was by linking to porn sites," it continued. "it is well known that any domain ending in .ly is Libyan."
— Meris Lutz in Beirut
Screenshot: Violet Blue, a well-known tech and sex writer, had her adult-friendly URL-shortening service taken down by the Libyan government. Credit: Meris Lutz via. Blue's webpage, tinynibbles.com