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Pakistan’s Ban on Social Media Platform X: A Form of Censorship?

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It has been almost three months since Pakistan banned social media platform X (formerly Twitter) in the country. Initially, the authorities were tight-lipped about the ban, but last month, the interior ministry finally informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that the ban on X was necessary due to concerns regarding its “misuse”. The ministry cited instances of X being used to spread hate speech, incite violence, and disseminate false information, which the platform failed to address despite the government’s lawful directives. This, they argued, necessitated the imposition of a ban.

The government has been talking about fake news, propaganda, and malicious content on X for the last three months, and it is evident that the state has no intention of lifting the ban. In fact, digital activists are concerned that the government will introduce more laws for social media, indicating that the state will attempt to control what is being said on social media. This is not just about regulation; the same was said when the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) was enacted in 2016 by the PML-N government. Civil society and digital rights activists had warned even back then that Peca would be used against dissent and would not be a tool for victims. Now that there is another attempt at bringing more laws related to social media, rights groups have warned again that the government will bring in more draconian laws rather than doing anything good and meaningful regarding fake news or disinformation campaigns on social media. The ban on X not only restricts freedom of expression but also hampers communication, access to information, and the ability to hold the government accountable.

The ban on X is not just an extreme step in the era of social media, it is a direct threat to our freedom of expression. The interior ministry’s claim that ‘hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilizing the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy,’ is being used as a justification for this censorship. But should such a claim warrant an outright ban on X, effectively silencing a significant portion of our digital discourse?

The solution is to have less censorship and stronger defamation laws, not draconian legislation or outright bans. 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 and government officials – including the prime minister of Pakistan – continue to use X and tweet both in Urdu and English for local and international audiences? If this platform indeed plays a part in ‘destabilizing’ the country, then no government official should have a presence there.

Instead of banning the entire site, if slander, defamation or inflammatory comments were the problem, it would have been simpler to go after those comments. Such widespread disruptions defang those with the knowledge and expertise to find and disseminate the truth while fueling perceptions that there must indeed be something to hide and a conspiracy in the works. Fake news and false claims should be addressed without compromising the rights of those who have nothing to do with them and those working hard to dispel them, all of whom share a site as large as ‘X’. 

Striking a balance between freedom of expression and national security is not just a necessity, it’s a responsibility. Draconian legislation and outright bans are not the answer. Pakistan should focus on strengthening its defamation laws and fostering an environment of responsible journalism and social media use, ensuring that our rights are protected without compromising our security.

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