- A new means of censorship
The PTI may well pride itself on being Net-savvy, but that its members’ penchant for use of social media platforms, should not have translated into so many requests by its government for restrictions on Facebook comments, posts or accounts. According to Facebook, which has released global figures as part of its transparency efforts, the Pakistani government, through the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, made the most requests for restrictions in the reporting period, of the second half of 2018 and the first of 2019. To put matters into perspective, Pakistan is followed by Mexico. And things are getting worse. In the second half of 2018, 4174 restrictions were placed on PTA’s request, while 5690 were placed in the first half of 2019. It might be noted that restrictions in this time went down globally, from 35,972 to 17,807, so while governments around the world were learning to live with the Internet, the Pakistan government is still fighting the good fight.
Fighting against what? Violations of local law, which means obscenity, comments against the judiciary, or national independence, or defamatory material. That opens the prospect of censorship. If local laws were to become more draconian, then censorship would be in place in earnest. It would be extremely unfortunate, for the Internet, as Facebook and the Internet are supposed to be free of restriction, and of censorship. Governments do not like this, particularly when the Internet is filled with cries of ‘the Emperor has no clothes.’ Is it entirely a coincidence that the increase in official requests for restriction has bucked the international trend at a time when the country has been undergoing unprecedented economic strain and impoverishment? Another natural question, if one accepted the narrative of the requests, is why Pakistanis have increased their blasphemous, obscene and anti-judiciary comments, not to mention questioning the independence of the country?
The next step would be to shoot the messenger and do what governments do best– slap a ban. The government might do well to remember the trouble caused by the YouTube ban a few years back. It should realise that social media is no longer merely a means of entertainment if ever that was what it was. It is not just a means of communication, but also of education. Stopping militants misusing the Net for their nefarious purposes is one thing, censorship is not.