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Establishing Social Media Task Force is Detrimental for Freedoms of Speech and Expression

Establishing social media task forces to quell the freedoms of speech and expression have never been successful.
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Social media has revolutionized the world of information, as is the case with Pakistan. Free flow of information and fundamental rights of expression and speech are being disseminated despite irregular acts of omission and commission. There are laws in place in Pakistan to regulate social media in Pakistan. However, this regulation should not obstruct introductory speech and expression rights.

Setting up a social media task force for ‘anti-military’ content is a transient idea, as such vague schemes are widely misapplied, further sabotaging freedom of expression. As reported on Friday, the government is considering setting up a task force to check online content critical of the military. FIA, PTA, NADRA and LEA officials will be part of this force. However, rather than trying to protect state institutions from the genuine threat of hostile elements, this is a political move, as those associated with the ruling setup have accused the PTI of waging an anti-military campaign. This is just the latest example in a series of arbitrary measures to increase punishment for criticism of the military and other state institutions. For example, last month, the cabinet considered a bill to speed up the crackdown on social media. At the same time, in April 2021, under the PTI government, a law was proposed to have People who “deliberately mock the armed forces” sentenced to two years in prison and fined.

Such proposed laws and task forces are anathema to democratic culture. In a free society, all state institutions must accept public criticism and reform the institution accordingly. Evident defamation cases or calls to promote violence differ, but laws are already on the statute books to deal with these situations. The latest move to stifle criticism of the institutions and all previous actions is politicized, with the government of the day bending over backwards to appease Pakistan’s authentic sources of power. The fact that the military continues to be criticized for being so deeply embedded in politics, despite the previous military leadership’s claims to distance itself from political involvement, is also ironic. The personalities who were being targeted on social media at the time used to ‘encourage’ targeting other political parties. The solution to this problem is for all institutions to function within constitutional boundaries and allow a healthy culture of criticism and debate within the norms of civility. Proposals like the Social Media Task Force should be scrapped permanently.

Societies are built on healthy criticism. Thus, a country’s freedom of association and speech are vital human rights. Therefore, establishing these authorities intending to target freedom of speech is not the way forward.

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