Tuesday May 21, 2024

X marks the ban

By Editorial Board
April 19, 2024
Screengrab shows X services down in Pakistan. —
Screengrab shows X services down in Pakistan. —

It has been two months since social media platform X (formerly Twitter) has been blocked/banned in Pakistan, the ban having come into effect during the caretaker government’s tenure. However, the caretakers had even then pretended as though the ban was not in place. When the new government took charge, it also looked the other way and pretended that X/Twitter could be accessed normally. Civil society, digital rights activists and journalists have ended up appealing to the courts to get the ban lifted. In this regard, the Sindh High Court has asked the government to restore X. In a case in front of the Islamabad High Court, now the interior ministry has finally said that the ban on X was necessary following its failure to address concerns regarding its “misuse”.

The justification given in the report submitted to the IHC says that the “failure of Twitter/X to adhere to the lawful directives of the government of Pakistan and address concerns regarding the misuse of its platform necessitated the imposition of a ban”. Many have asked the government about the notification that led to this ban, but the IHC was informed that the decision was taken after confidential reports from Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies. The report also says that the “decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation” and that “hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy”.

In its first statement issued since the suspension of X in Pakistan in mid-February, the social media platform has said that it continues to work “with the Pakistani government to understand their concerns”. Thankfully, not everyone in government is in a state of denial. For example, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique has tweeted that the ban on X must end as it has not benefitted anyone and only led to international embarrassment. In this day and age, it is quite bizarre to claim that Pakistan’s national security is under threat because of a social media platform. If it is such a threat, then why is it that all politicians, government officials – including the prime minister of Pakistan – continue to use X and tweet both in Urdu and English, for the local and international audience. If this platform is indeed playing a part in ‘destabilizing’ the country, then no government official should have a presence there. Are we in Pakistan doomed to live in a regime where our freedoms are taken away because someone in the government or elsewhere thinks that the only way to fight one party’s propaganda is by banning X? If slander, defamation or inflammatory comments were the problem, it would have been simpler to just go after those comments. Why did the entire site have to be closed to the people? Also, things posted on the internet are, for better or for worse, forever. Does this mean restrictions can also be indefinite? Does the constitutional right to free expression really count for so little in a self-proclaimed democracy? Social media is indispensable to people’s power in the 21st century. It is not just where people get the news, but where they can become part of it and influence the narrative. Then again, maybe that is the problem.