New social media laws

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It is heartening to see our leadership has awoken to hybrid war after carrying the day in the years-long war on terror. The introduction of the ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful OnlineContent (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020’ is the right step towards the right direction though there is always room for improvements in rules. Since the inception of the war on terror, Pakistan has been facing both destructive terror attacks and an unrelenting hybrid war through diplomatic and cyber propaganda attacks. Whereas terror attacks targeted civilians and security personnel besides physical infrastructure, hybrid war would aim at eroding the nation’s morale and damaging their military or political objectives. Earlier, diplomacy was the only most effective tool to hurt Pakistan’s legitimate strategic, economic and diplomatic assets. Now cyberspace, especially social media, has been in full circle day and night to create perceptions and misperceptions regarding the government and leaders. Barring certain quarters that are more speaking for tech multinationals, the public has accepted revised social media rules, carefully vetted by a committee and in consultation with stakeholders – both the national and international. The discovery of Indian Chronicles, an organized propaganda campaign in the working for 15 years, shows how cyberspace, especially social media platforms, is being exploited by various quarters around the world to align Pakistan’s interests. Similarly, social media campaigns within Pakistan used to get free reigns to propagate fabricated narratives eroding our social,cultural and religious norms.

‘Removaland Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards),Rules 2020’ respects one’s free speech rights as enshrined in the constitution.It only draws lines between one’s free speech rights and the acts which also fall under criminal procedures code, such as spreading negativity in the form of blasphemy. The law bars social media users from discrediting state institutions and individuals, and inciting sectarian or ethnic hate and harassment etc. This is in spirit of the social media companies, which have also introduced measures, such as fake news alerts, in the larger interests of the masses. A tweet by President Trump creating doubts on democracy and elections is flagged by the company. Even the mainstream US media openly refuses to carry Trump’s statements which they deem anti-democracy. No doubt social media has helped the democratization of Pakistan, it is time the platforms be used for more responsible usage for the public good. The government should,however, pay attention to the circles demanding broader definition or claritin rules, so that the law is not misused.

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