Social Media Blocked in Pakistan – The Inconvenience is Regretted

A pandemic has hit the world, by which millions of people are affected globally. You can’t step out of the house, at least not without your very important buddies: your face mask and sanitizer. You can’t shake hands with or hug your loved ones. You have to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from every other person at all times. Everything is online; your work, your relationships, your education, your next ride, your entertainment, your veterinarian, you name it. There isn’t anything that cannot be found online. Your whole life revolves around the internet and how well it functions. Honestly, though, there’s literally nothing you can do without your smartphone. But imagine one day, one unusual day, one bizarre and freakish day, you find out that half your life is on hold. Well, worry not because you get to witness that day today.

Pakistan has temporarily blocked all major social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Telegram from 11 am to 3 pm today. Why? Although it has not been plainly disclosed, it appears that this ban is due to several days of disturbance caused by the activities of the newly barred political group whose demonstrations have been causing disruptions across our largest cities, and as authorities work on breaking up their recent protests in Lahore, they’ve blocked social media to “maintain public order and safety”.

But dear reader, the question is, is banning all social media platforms the only way to maintain that safety?

Let’s talk about how Pakistan can actually ban the internet as they’ve done. Our internet works through five undersea cables through which Pakistan is connected to the cyberworld, operated by Transworld and PTCL. Once PTA wants to block something off the internet, it instructs all ISPs in the country to block them and report back to the authorities.

This may sound easy, yes, but is it feasible?

Let’s take a few scenarios.

You’re working as an entrepreneur whose core revenue comes from Facebook and Instagram ads. You’re running a very important sale today and need to target just the right people to reach and engage them. It’s a fine day, you open your social apps, but turns out they’re banned. Panic! Disaster! But really, is there anything you can do to avoid this?

In scenario 2, you’re a digital marketing executive who’s going to execute a very important campaign for a client. You’ve been working your backside off for the past week and just as you press “Post” on Facebook, you get a security notification that you cannot access this medium. Panic! Disaster! But again, really, is there anything else you can do?

What’s appalling isn’t how easily social media, the most powerful way of communication, has been banned in Pakistan. It is, but even more so is how easy it is for our authorities to ban such an important tool with just a call, within a few hours’ notice. Today’s ban is temporary and restorations are already underway, but the fact that the process is so very simple to execute is what raises my concerns because if it’s such an easy thing to do, it can happen any day, with permanent repercussions that could disrupt an entire industry that can be growing into one of the largest ones in the country.

And that’s not just it. The fact that political parties who, by the way, should be working toward the country’s progress are instead taking us back decades and dictating how the country’s social and digital landscape should work calls for an unclear future, which, for a country with the 4th weakest passport globally, is a notably serious issue.

We reached out to some active members of Pakistan’s digital community, and here’s what they had to say about it.

“When you vote for a political party which is founded on ‘insaf’ (justice) you expect the change previous political parties failed to deliver. It’s obnoxious to believe that change can happen overnight. But in this case, much like many other human rights issues, we do not have any hope. Calling peaceful protestors “blackmailers” and submitting to chaotic individuals is what we have seen for decades. Same applies for banning social media. It’s regressive, counterproductive, and nothing new,” Soha Naveed.

Speaking on the same, Ahmer Naqvi says, “Pakistan’s digital industries have continued to suffer for a long time due to the state’s fondness for bans. The YouTube ban set back Pakistani creators by years. Now with TikTok emerging as a globally significant platform, its frequent bans in Pakistan are similarly hampering creators, who in this case are not from the urban elite demographic that usually dominated social media. Their success can be transformational for society, but it keeps getting held back. But what is most frustrating is that these bans are usually a result of the state failing to deal with another issue, and using the ban to save face. This creates a double problem, where the actual issue isn’t resolved while the digital sphere continues to suffer.”

Following this impromptu band, we are left wondering whether this is a one-time case or will this happen every time a party decides to reign imbalance in the country’s already fragile peace? So we wait and go about our days as usual, until something like this happens again and we’re left asking questions that will, as always, be left unanswered.

What do you think of the social media ban in the country? Are you in favor of it or against it? Tell us in the comments.

Zahra Rehman

Social science undergrad and amateur artist who has a soft spot for cats, dogs and philosophy.

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