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Facebook owner Meta Platforms has granted the Kazakh government access to its content reporting system, after the Central Asian nation threatened to block the social network for millions of local users.

The Nur-Sultan cabinet and Facebook said in a joint statement on Monday that the agreement, the first of its kind in the post-Soviet region of Central Asia, would streamline the process of removing content deemed illegal by Kazakhstan.

The oil-rich nation’s parliament in September started working on a bill that would let the government block social network and messaging apps unless their developers open offices in the country and appoint executives personally responsible for reviewing the authorities’ complaints.

Deputy Aidos Sarym, one of the bill’s developers, said on his Facebook page that the bill had paved way for talks with tech giants and the authorities were now ready to soften its provisions.

Under the agreement between Nur-Sultan and the network, “Facebook has provided Kazakhstan direct and exclusive access to Facebook’s ‘Content Reporting System’ (CRS) which can help the government to report content that may violate Facebook’s global content policy and local laws of Kazakhstan”, the sides said in a joint statement.

The statement quoted Facebook’s Regional Public Policy Director, George Chen, as saying the company hoped the measure would help the government deal with harmful content in a more efficient and effective manner. He said the company was working with Kazakhstan particularly on “online safety for children”.

Critics of the bill have accused the authorities of the autocratic nation of 19 million of seeking to gain new censorship tools, while the bill’s authors say it aims to prevent cyber-bullying and the spread of other dangerous content.

The government has said there were at least 3.2 million Facebook users in Kazakhstan. Other Meta Platforms applications such as Instagram and WhatsApp are even more popular.

Facebook has long faced criticism from rights group for being too compliant with government censorship requests.

The service has mostly avoided shutdowns outside of countries such as China, where it has long been blocked, but has faced pressure this year in a number of countries including India, Vietnam and Myanmar.

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