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Digital rights activists, Asad Baig, Nighat Dad, Farieha Aziz and shahzad Ahmad share their concerns

Social media gags

Asad Baig

“How many accounts can we shut down to stop a rumour?” 

Asad Baig — Founder, Media Matters for Democracy & The Media Lab

In Pakistan, journalists are getting email warnings from Twitter informing them that “their tweets are in violation of Pakistan’s laws and that the consequences for press freedoms could be dire”. A very simple question comes to mind: what laws were compromised and violated?

Say, if a request comes from X government to Twitter that Y law is being violated, will Twitter take it on face value? If yes, do people in Twitter understand how political control of speech works? If not, it means Twitter only sends out a notification once they themselves are satisfied that some violation of law had occurred which is good, but do they then elaborate the nature of violation in these notifications? Obviously not! Which leads us to believe that Twitter is acting only as a ‘post office’ for unjustified government regulations.

The way tech is developing, any ‘regulation’ of content, especially digital content, is a moot exercise. Ask yourself, is the content that the PTA has blocked, really blocked? With tools like TOR and others, circumvention of censorship has become child’s play.

As for this proposed new regulatory body, this looks like a new disaster in the making. We as digital rights activists did what we could to educate the PML-N of potential dangers of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) when they were enacting it. Every single time we raised a concern, we were told by the PML-N leaders to “trust our government”, but their views have changed ever since PECA was first used as a tool to arrest their own political workers.

Same goes for the PTI which feels right now that Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) is a phenomenal idea. But history has taught us that these views are bound to change once they leave the corridors of power. My only fear is, it’ll be too late by then.

Incitement to violence — often confused with hate speech — should be dealt with on an emergency basis, including but not limited to removal of accounts. We’ve seen how incitement works in Pakistan. No contestations there. But I feel any other ‘quick-fixes’ for hate speech, and more importantly, misinformation are futile.

The way misinformation content is generated and shared, it’s pretty obvious that counter-misinformation content cannot keep pace. How many accounts can we shut down to stop a rumour?

The only reasonable solution to counter misinformation, in my opinion, is also the most lengthy, resource-heavy and time-consuming, and it is a holistic approach towards media and information literacy, starting from very early stages of education, i.e., primary schools. Anything short of that is a quick fix.

Wajiha Hyder

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Ather Naqvi

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