Internet Censorship: Why The Lifted Twitter Ban is Serious Matter

Exactly two years since the date on which a ban on Facebook was enforced in Pakistan, Twitter was blocked by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on orders of the I.T Ministry today.

The ban has just been lifted on orders of the PM.

The given ground for it was the ‘promotion and encouragement to participate in blasphemous contests’ through Twitter.

The first point of argument that arises upon hearing this, is: if such contests are being held by some, how will Pakistan’s suspension of Twitter stop it? How does barring people from any site, accomplish anything, leave alone the discontinuation of the alleged ‘offensive’ content?

It is patent that this is at a complete discord with rationale, thus rendering the whole act futile while assigning the element of sheer foolishness to it.

Second, what kind of ‘blasphemous contests’ were being publicised on Twitter, that those who are logged onto in 24/7 are not aware of, but only PTA was?

And that too, on a site like Twitter where any such controversial or globally or locally ‘trending’ topics immediately come into the cognizance and under the discussions of the millions of users?

In view of these, the reason given by PTA was seen more of a pretext rather than a valid explanation for their action.

Although the ban has been removed now, the situations surrounding the internet and its usage in Pakistan command that its core be taken seriously: internet censorship.

Since the advent of social networking sites, many in Pakistan have found a medium where the relatively great freedom of speech and expression available in the country, could be utilized to have their voice heard.

But the fact that the government and its organizations are vested with the authority to define a broad term like ‘objectionable’, misuse it to cease access to the internet under its cloak, is, to say the least, disconcerting.

Relevantly, taking into account that religion is the most dangerously sensitive pulse of the nation (and the most handiest of cudgels in Pakistani politics) and from 200 million only around 10% to 15% of Pakistanis are on the internet (while the rest are not conscious of what is really present or happening on it), using the guise of religion ( ‘blasphemous, objectionable content’) is the most ‘lucratively’ easy strategy for the puissant to advance their aims.

Especially in a country where there has been a tremendous transformation of the internet as a vent for public outrage, anger and criticism of the legislative, judicial and executive organs of the state, and as a forum for unprecendented critical scrutiny of the Military Establishment and the ISI.

Not to mention, how the internet has revolutionised the transmission of information, knowledge of global political, social or cultural happenings – at a phenomenal rate.

The abovementioned factor, is what usually troubles those ruling a state.

Generally speaking, the reach to all information of the populace is not in their (rulers, the potent) favor for it often ‘endangers’ the status quo or the position maintained by them.

And this leads to decisions that are, to go by the rhetoric, taken to ‘safeguard the public’ (and posed as forms of social control, when they really are government-foisted constraints to preserve the profitable ‘political equilibrium’) as the state jumps to keep up this drumbeat by parading notions of threat of disturbance to the social order.

(In Pakistan, that can be seen by how the alarm on the society’s morality was raised with the abundance of porn sites given as an example to justify banning many and ‘filtering the internet’; a sweep which included many Baloch sites that documented the gruesome, organized massacres in Balochistan and unambiguously naming the uniformed perpetrators while containing the grave disenchantment of the Baloch with Pakistan)

In the case of today’s Twitter ban, which was implemented with such a dubious founding, it all makes the aforementioned concern feel all the more real and reasonable.

Considering the popularity and usage of sites like Twitter and Facebook span continents and billions of people, they are correctly resembled to bridges that link the world; transcending physical borders and geographical separations.

Their incredible reach has established them as a connection between populations all around the world to interact, engage in healthy discussions, clear common misconceptions, express their point of view on a range of  topics and even promote commercial, educational, political and social goals.

And at a time when Pakistan is practically a pariah state, heavily stereotyped and misunderstood and such is the power of the internet in this age, that it has been successfully used as a tool for revolutions; it can not afford  and must resist internet censorship in any form, which not only removes it from availing the benefits that the platform offers, deprive its citizens from their right to freedom of speech, expression and information but also virtually, further isolates Pakistan from the rest of the world.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

* Later published on Express Tribune.


7 comments on “Internet Censorship: Why The Lifted Twitter Ban is Serious Matter

  1. Hasan says:

    Its so perfectly voiced that I want to copy paste it and mail t to all the Chull-Bull Mallacks of this ‘Asif Ali-baba & Chalees chor’ regime. Even though bydoing so, I am pretty sure, its not going to make any difference, but at least, I’d have done my part.

  2. Well written Hafsa. I agree.
    It’s really troubling you know. The way the ban was imposed and then removed within a day. This could be sign, I think. The direction in which current Government can pull the censorship. Manipulate it. As I noticed, there wasn’t any objectionable content for the last 30 days at least (came to know it through a tweet). This ban wasn’t about blasphemous material. It had other motives. Maybe a warning to all those who are waging a war against the current government through social media, particularly twitter? How political parties (such as PTI) are using it to protest against government policies.
    Such bans are spineless, and meaningless. Like the policies itself, this was completely illogical, unless we consider ulterior motives.

    Anyway, nicely written 🙂 Keep it up 🙂


  3. Hasan says:

    Two more points.
    1. Twitter’s an ‘alternate medium’. Most of young journalists I’ve interacted with over twitter, who feel their stories get edited by media house owners vent it out over the net, specially on twitter. Minute by minute updates, twitter provides a forum that acts like syncitium for these enthusiastic journos and get instant feedback from active users from all strata of society.

    2. Why not ban porn with such efficiency? :s

  4. Ashes says:

    Good one 🙂

  5. Hasan says:

    Very well written Hafsa. Just as any of us, apparently literate, would have thought, what to do and how to express our anguish over something that at some level does cause this mild anxiety of not being able to communicate with friends via a major social media forum, you came up with perfect words to translate those feelings. Twitter, as I have found, acts as an ‘alternative medium’, providing a relatively uncensored and raw pool of information where we can directly interact with and give feedback to people influencing our daily lives. One area of particular importance are those young journalists whom we find candid over many news that come up, not as we see them on TV channels and E-papers. Blasphemous content, as you mentioned and many of us feel so, was a mere decoy. Its primarily to impede free flow of information from dedicated journalists to net-savvy active young Pakistanis like yourself. Pacifying those stereotypical ‘internet non-users’ by blocking a website or two, paradoxically affects those who rely on it for a major part of every day life.

  6. Aftab S. Alam says:

    Bravo—–Good read! Keep on raising hell as long as it takes to jolt these morons back to real world. More power to your thoughts and more courage to express it—this is what is our most basic human-right and this is what makes us superior to other creatures——our power to speak and right to express ourselves. Keep it up Hafsa!

  7. Abdul Rauf says:

    I dont agree with some of points discussed here. If those were really offensive, we must apply to delet those offensive posts. If applications are rejected than these webs must be banned.

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