Subduing social media platform | Pakistan Today
Syed Amin-ul Haque, Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications, announced on December 9 that Google, the world’s largest search engine and video sharing platform, will open a liaison office in Pakistan. Google has already registered itself as a company in Pakistan.
Registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) is the first step towards establishing the office, a requirement under the Removal and Blocking of Illegal Online Content (Procedure, Supervision and Protection) Rules 2021. The rules made on 13 October 2021. by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority requires the social media platforms to have their servers in Pakistan to ensure that the data is secure. Currently, the data of all the platforms is stored outside the country.
Haque also revealed that TikTok has agreed to establish a liaison office in Pakistan. However, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube were still reluctant to follow suit. The effort is that after registering and opening offices, the social media platforms should adhere to the laws and norms of Pakistan.
The purpose of the Rules was to have an authority as a handle on these social media companies, which would have a representative and an office in Islamabad. If the government requires it, the companies will be obliged to remove or block access to any post or online content from 12 hours (in case of emergency) to 48 hours (in routine) from the time of receiving directions. In case of non-compliance, the company will be fined up to Rs500 million.
Within the domain of freedom of speech and expression, as contained in Article 19 of the Constitution, the relevant Rules aim to protect five things: glory of Islam, security of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, and integrity or defence. from Pakistan.
In the West, the actions of the military and the judiciary are not outside the bounds of social reaction. Political response may or may not follow social response. These institutions which have erected an iron curtain around them should meet the realities of modern times and modern Pakistan. Change yourself, instead of changing the whole world.
The government said that social media companies should open functional offices in Islamabad and follow local laws. There should apparently be no problem with these five aspects. However, there are concerns that these rules are intended for abuse by the government. There are two main sources of suspicion.
Firstly, the previous government, which was the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) government, took certain steps that made people suspicious of the government’s intention. On January 21, 2020, the previous government notified new social media rules and on January 28, the federal cabinet approved the “Citizen Protection (from Online Harm) Rules, 2020”. In its Article 2(1) (d), “extremism” is defined as the “violent, vocal or active opposition to fundamental values of the State of Pakistan, including the security, integrity or defense of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, the rule of law, individual freedom and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
The question is this: How can extremism be defined in this way? With this definition as the mainstay of the rules, it became clear that the government wanted to use the smoke screen of the word “extremism” to its advantage to suppress freedom of expression and speech. The rules were a crackdown on dissent and not on extremism. Currently, the big challenge comes from fake news, smear campaigns, hate speech and incitement to violence. However, even such genuine challenges and concerns have become questionable.
Secondly, in Pakistan the law of terrorism is misused. Any political opponent or dissident is subject to an FIR on the allegation of terrorism. By the time the recipient is acquitted of the charges, a lot of time is wasted.
The big problem is with exploiting rules to one’s advantage. After 2008, the rise of social media saw the rise of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, although these remained unchecked. On several occasions, limits were exceeded, both intentionally and unintentionally. From 2014 to 2018, the Pakistanis, especially the educated urban class, became involved in participating in politics and social issues through social media, which emerged as a platform alternative to the mainstream controlled media. This was why social media emerged as a platform that gives vent to the repressed and even unorthodox thoughts of the society.
Another point is who will judge whether or not any post or online content is judicially removed. Both types of rules (2020 and 2021) are silent on this aspect. This means that the Government of Pakistan will enjoy discretionary powers to decide the matter.
Given the existing rules, it is feared that social media may degenerate from a tool of free speech and expression into a medium of controlled discourse. Intelligence agencies want full access to the data and activities of both social media companies and their customers. Because the youth, deprived of student unions to vent their feelings, can feel the pressure. Unfortunately, intelligence agencies, which are not free from political influence, have their own yardstick for judging dissent.
It is clear that there is current distrust between citizens and the state. The social media companies are also aware of the wedge of suspicion. They are interested in having clients to earn money and run their system and not interested in pleasing the Pakistani government. Furthermore, the social media companies in the West are aware of the level of freedom of expression and speech in developing countries like Pakistan.
They may not be interested in becoming a tool in the hands of Pakistan’s government to suppress socio-political dissent. Terms like glory of religion and integrity of a country are losing relevance outside Pakistan. Decency and morality are relevant terms that change their definitions from society to society. The East cannot forbid the West. With the influx of technology from the West, Western ideas and norms are bound to invade the East.
Nevertheless, every Pakistani knows where the rub lies. In the West, the actions of the military and the judiciary are not outside the bounds of social reaction. Political response may or may not follow social response. These institutions which have erected an iron curtain around them should meet the realities of modern times and modern Pakistan. Change yourself, instead of changing the whole world.