Can PTA remove ‘immoral content’ from social media websites?

Digital experts and transparency reports of these social networking websites suggest the government can't take down the content itself

By Fakhar Durrani
February 21, 2024
A view of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Is it possible for the government of Pakistan to remove explicit and objectionable content from social networking websites as the Sindh High Court (SHC) has ordered immediate action against immoral content on social media and directed to submit a comprehensive report in this regard?


Digital experts and transparency reports of these social networking websites suggest it is not possible for the government to take down the content itself. The government has to file a request to obtain or access to data or content takedown which violates the local laws or community guidelines.

The counsel, representing Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), also informed the SHC bench that the regulatory body doesn’t have the authority to remove the content on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. It has to write to the authorities concerned in these social networking website companies.

For any immoral content or any user/ account which violates the local laws of the host country, the social networking websites have their own set of rules or community guidelines. In case if these guidelines or local laws are violated, the social networking websites take down the content or block/ remove the user/ account from its platform.

The YouTube Community Guidelines Enforcement report reveals that Pakistan is one of the top seven countries in the world where maximum numbers of videos were deleted during the last one year. From July 2022 to September 2023, YouTube removed more than 1.1 million videos on the request of the Pakistani government or in violation of community guidelines and local laws.

Similarly, Meta (Facebook) also has its own guidelines. According to the Transparency Report of Meta, from January to June 2023, Pakistan filed 1,407 data requests to Facebook. Of these requests, Facebook produced data against 77.83 of the total requests. Through these requests, the government asked for the data of 1,639 users/ accounts, the report shows.

Interestingly, the Meta data shows crackdown on social media users/ accounts increased immensely during the PTI regime. From July 2018 to July 2020, the government filed the maximum number of data requests to obtain the data from Facebook.

Bytes for All Senior Program Manager Haroon Baloch, while talking to The News, said it is not possible for the Pakistani government to remove targeted content from these social networking websites. The government has to approach these companies for the content takedown and has to inform them that they are in violation of the local laws. If it is established that any content is violating the local laws then it is removed, he said.

“TikTok is the only social networking platform that has removed a large amount of content on the request of the Pakistani government. The other companies like Twitter/ X or Meta also entertain the requests but they have their own community guidelines as well. Sometimes these companies do not comply with the government requests if they find they are not violating the platform’s own community rules/guidelines,” commented Haroon Baloch.

There is no permanent solution to remove the content from social networking websites. If targeted users or profiles are intended to be blocked, the government doesn’t have the capacity. This is the reason the government’s regulatory bodies sometimes block the entire website or throttle the traffic of these networking websites, he said.

Media Matters for Democracy Executive Director Asad Baig said that any harmful content which contains hate speech or immoral content can be removed from social networking websites by invoking community standards. However, it takes time to remove such content once you invoke the community standards. Despite this, not all the harmful content can be removed from these platforms, he said. On the issue of whether the government is capable of removing any content from the social networking websites, Asad said the PTA or any other government department doesn’t have any direct access to the data of social networking websites to get it removed. It has to request the platforms for removing the content or blocking the users, he added.