The PTI government has hinted at regulation of social media since coming to power in August and in a press conference yesterday Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the government plans to initiate a crackdown on “hate speech” and “extremist narratives” present in digital media.
While this seems like a positive development through its presentation by the government, this move is likely the beginning of a crackdown on dissenting voices in digital media. In regulating social media, the government can effectively use this precedent to silence those who dare question government policies or decisions on the internet.
The move clearly goes against the principles of democracy where the media’s role is to highlight dissenting voices and keep the government in check. Social media was the last refuge for uncensored voices in Pakistan where traditional media including newspapers and television are highly controlled by powerful backdoor influences.
Social media was the last refuge for uncensored voices in Pakistan where traditional media including newspapers and television are highly controlled by powerful backdoor influences.
It is ironic that PTI, a party that has used social media as an effective platform to further their agenda and attack the government in the past, is making this move. In effect they are attempting to regulate the very thing that got them into power. Perhaps the PTI has realized the power of social media in reaching the people and hopes to control it to its own advantage. Because after all, as the government this move will not affect the PTI in any way and gives them an unfair advantage over the opposition.
The move also infringes upon the freedom of the people on a platform that is traditionally a way for people to express their view and ideology in a space free from outside influence. This then is an issue of civil liberties and the case can be made that the government is again infringing in an area that is not their domain.
Therefore, if the PTI government places a ban or intensely regulates the content on social media, the action is synonymous with that of a dictatorship as opposed to one of democracy; and choosing to regulate narratives now, after holding power in the country, would also be seen as a step that is unjustifiable for this government.
The government has cleverly disguised this move by framing it as a means to control hate speech and extremist narratives. The truth is that these regulations are meant to do much more than that. The potential for misuse of this new policy is too great for it not to be seen as method to control dissent.
There are better ways to control extremists and hate speech than put a censor over everyone in a free digital space. We do not live in a totalitarian state and we cannot be subject to such undemocratic policies. For the sake of freedom and for the sake of progress, all those who care about Pakistan should oppose this move.