Genie in the bottle | Pakistan Today

Genie in the bottle

  • It can’t be put back

To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize─Voltaire

If today’s world had to be defined by a single word, that word would be information. Information about places, people, things, ideas– past, present and future. And now, along with the right we have greater ability to meet people from around the word, to visit whichever place we can, use some things and adopt certain ideas– so now we need to know about them. When someone or some organisation prevents this readily available information from getting to people because they feel this information is ‘bad’– if they are right, then using their own arguments they might well be preventing those same people from seeing this ‘bad’ for themselves and reaching out and over to the good. In such a stultifying atmosphere there would be no progress. The world would simply be a horde of human-faced sheep following each other away from the baa-ad (excuse the pun).

In today’s world, even the so called democracies and ‘free’ societies are not free from the scourge of censorship. To speak of societies other than our own– since our own seems to elicit such a response– it was censorship and authoritarianism at its most pathetic when the ex-President Trump fired Chris Krebs, the election security official who contradicted him by setting up a website that debunked election misinformation. The interesting point is that by firing Krebs that misinformation did not go back under the carpet, the act of firing only called attention to it. That is what always happens.

Yes, even misinformation helps us choose, to understand and to decide what to do next. But that is the problem, that this choice, understanding and attempts to decide, does not suit those who put out ‘officially approved’ information and depend on it

Wired reports that Krebs’ website ‘has been rapidly checking and debunking all manner of conspiracy theories and misunderstandings and outright disinformation circulating online.’

For many Americans, the firing might have been the first time they even heard of either CISA or Krebs, and yet he might just be the lone figure to emerge from the (Trump) administration with a better reputation than when he entered it.’

To go back to an almost prototypical example for our country one must revisit Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses which may never have been read by more than a few people had the ultra-conservative element in society not made such a big hoo-ha about it. As it is, it was snuck into the country (where it was banned) in people’s suitcases and widely read. And yet the powers that be never fail to learn that they must not censor if only for this reason.

And so the Pakistan Ministry of Information and Technology which moves in strange ways its wonders to perform has come up with a set of rules that social media companies and internet providers have alike condemned and termed ‘draconian’.

These rules have been named the ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content’ and are supposed to be a subset of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).

If nothing else, such moves prove that those in charge of information and technology have much to learn about it.

One of the most outstanding features of information in this age which rides on the back of electronic media is that information is exactly like the proverbial genie that has been let out of its bottle – it cannot be put back again.  There are innumerable ways to get around any such attempt, and users can mask where they live, they can change their identity, they can hack sites– and in the end they will get the information they need. It only needs one person to achieve this and the others will have it before you can say ‘Stupid!’ We are now addicted to information. We cannot do without Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo. We need them to tell us everything about the world around us, the weather, its monetary climate, its day-to-day occurrences; we need them to plan our travel, pay our bills, talk to our loved ones and view their faces.

And we need them to spread misinformation. How would Trump tell us he won the 2020 elections without Twitter? In the absence of the media, and then social media, how would we have known that Germany and Japan are neighbours and that they worked together to re-build the world after World War II? We would not have known either that Jesus was not mentioned in history books, not ever.

Yes, even misinformation helps us choose, to understand and to decide what to do next. But that is the problem, that this choice, understanding and attempts to decide, does not suit those who put out ‘officially approved’ information and depend on it.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at

One Comment;

  1. Imran Ahmed said:

    Even were we to put ethical concerns aside; bans, censorship & suppression have never been effective longer term or sensible solutions to a problem.

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