Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam evaluates a regressive intent on social media
The power wielders in Pakistan are getting jittery by the day due to incessant assault by social media. It was a long time in the air as the level of the discomfiture of the power holders in Pakistan was rising continually and their patience growing thin. The situation has been exacerbated by the extremely large tentacles of social media that have the tendency not only to replicate fast but also to renew in the process.
With their backs to the wall, the government approved new rules for regulating cyberspace which opponents say could be used to stifle dissent and free speech. It was also reported that under regulations, social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful. Companies that do not comply with the rules risk being blocked online.
The government maintains that the regulations would help identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content. They emphasize that the measures are designed to uphold the integrity, decency, and respect of individuals and the sanctity of institutions. The new rules are described as aimed at preventing live streaming of online content relating to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence, and national security.
According to these regulations, social media companies are obliged to 24 hours to respond to a request to remove unlawful material, or six hours in emergency cases. They will have three months to register with authorities in Pakistan and must have a physical presence in Pakistan. When required, the companies will be required to provide subscriber information, traffic data, content data, and any other information or data that is sought, as the regulations stipulate.
Government Attempting Intimidating And Silence
The rules also state that interpretations of the regulations by the authorities in Pakistan will take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a social media company. Social media companies will be obliged to disclose any information or data to a designated investigation agency when sought, and failure to abide by any of the provisions will entail hefty fines.
These rules elicited a strong negative reaction from many stakeholders who termed them as the government’s attempt at intimidating and silencing opponents and allegations of media censorship. It is mentioned that the new rules will give the authorities unflinching powers to stifle social media. It is also mentioned that the definition of extremism, religion, or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means that the regulating authority will have unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist, or anti-state.
The critics and there are many, point out that this is the kind of overreach they were worried about as they emphasize that these rules go beyond the ambit of the law, trying to go above and beyond what the law allows them to do. It was also pointed out that the government would find it difficult to regulate international companies operating from foreign countries.
The criticism of these regulations is not only confined to Pakistan but has also compelled circles outside the country to point out its regressive intent. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) warned that the government’s new rules to regulate social media activity will make it extremely difficult for digital companies to operate in Pakistan.
Different Internet Social Media Platforms
While warning Pakistan, AIC made it categorically clear that it was not against the regulation of social media and pointed out that Pakistan already had an extensive legislative framework governing online content. It regretted that these rules failed to address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy. They also contravene the legislative enactments under which the government of Pakistan has framed them.
AIC has been consistently insisting that unless revoked, these rules would severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy. AIC members recognize Pakistan’s strong potential but these rules belie the government of Pakistan’s claims that it is open for business and investment. In fact, the rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.
The AIC comprises leading internet and technology companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Grab, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, and Yahoo. The group pointed out that Pakistan risked becoming a global outlier, needlessly isolating and depriving Pakistani users and businesses of the growth potential of the internet economy.
AIC strongly urged the government of Pakistan to initiate a proper public consultation to ensure wider participation to develop a new set of rules. The AIC members insisted that they wished to better understand the motivations and concerns behind the rules in order to work collaboratively with the government on solutions.
The AIC further said that it recognized that governments around the world were considering how best to deal with illegal and problematic online content and that there was a shared agreement among governments about letting people create, communicate and find information online while preventing people from misusing content-sharing platforms like social media. The Weekender