YouTube Ban in Pakistan

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in a discussion on Wednesday entertained the idea of banning YouTube going so far as to issuing notices to the Foreign Ministry and the Attorney General of Pakistan. The matter came into consideration while the court was hearing a case regarding a sectarian crime leveled against Shaukat Ali.

The court was concerned about “objectionable content”, to be exact, Justice Qazi Ameen said that content criticizing the institutions of Pakistan such as the judiciary, the military, and the government was being proliferated on YouTube.

Justice Ameen went on to say that “On YouTube and social media, even our families are not being spared”, while Justice Qazi added, “We gave a verdict yesterday and today it was there on YouTube.” People on the platform can present their views regarding such verdicts which prompted Justice Ameen to say that everyone acts like an expert on social media.

“We have no objection to freedom of expression,” clarified Justice Ameen, “our salaries are paid from the money of the people, they have the right to raise questions on our decisions and our performance but the Constitution also grants us the right to privacy.”

Regarding a decision made the day before which came under heavy criticism on the platform going so far as to insulting the family of the members of the judiciary, Justice Ameen asked “Have the PTA or FIA seen what is going on on YouTube?”, inquiring whether the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) took notice of these developments on the platform. Replying to this inquiry, PTA officials told the bench that they can only report objectionable content, not remove it themselves.

The Supreme Court had issued a contempt notice to a cleric, Mirza Iftikharuddin, a few days ago who threatened a senior judge, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, in a video uploaded on YouTube.

“In several countries, YouTube has been banned,” said Justice Mushir Alam, adding that social media is regulated through local laws in such countries.

If Justice Alam had his eyes on China which has a strict policing of social media, then it must be noted that there exist several alternatives to these apps and sites in China which have become established and successful in their own right over the years. The same cannot be said about Pakistan, in fact, many have noted that blocking big platforms such as YouTube that provide a means of income to many people, will negatively impact these citizens who will not have any substitutes for recourse.

These sentiments come from within the government itself. Special Assistant on Digital Pakistan, Tania Aidrus and Federal Science Minister, Fawad Chaudhry were critical of such a ban.

These are voices from the very government that tried to pass seeping rules of censorship earlier this year. The Citizen’s Protection Rules (Against Online Harm) prompted a response from the Asia Internet Coalition which threatened to leave the country. This would have effectively meant that tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter would have gone leaving Pakistan in a digital dark age.

The PTA already has what many believe to be unbridled power to police the internet under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016. Though the PTA has banned many websites permanently, it also temporarily bans websites on a whim which hinders many who make use of such sites, for instance over the years PTA has suddenly and inexplicably banned websites such as WordPress, Reddit, Wikipedia, and Quora, among many others.

YouTube is not what it used to be when it was banned back in 2012. The platform is a financial boon to many people ranging from those residing in urban areas to even villagers. The website is also a repository of some of the best resources for those interested in learning. Not only can you find videos for learning just about any skill, channels such as KhanAcademy have paved the way for innumerable educational channels for students.

The news of a potential ban comes on the heels of a recent temporary ban on PUBG, as well as a relatively under the radar ban on the live streaming app Bigo, and a final warning issued to the video-sharing platform TikTok. PTA released a statement recently on Tuesday saying that it urged ByteDance and Bigo Technologies to “moderate the socialization and content within legal and moral limits” but that the response was not satisfactory.

“Therefore, in exercise of its powers under PECA (nation’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act), PTA has decided to immediately block Bigo and issue final warning to TikTok to put in place a comprehensive mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity, and immorality through its social media application.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, a ByteDance spokesperson said the company deploys a combination of technologies and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content that violates our terms of use. In the second half of 2019, TikTok removed 3,728,162 user videos from Pakistan.

“We are committed to further strengthening our safeguards to ensure the safety of our users, while increasing our dialogue with the authorities to explain our policies and demonstrate our dedication to user security,” the spokesperson said.

Though the ban on PUBG, Bigo, and TikTok are relatively innocuous, these instances might well be building up to even more restrictions in the future. Many people are worried about a potential ban on YouTube, with #YoutubeBanInPakistan trending on Twitter.

About Sarmad Tariq

A self-professed "jack of all trades, master of none" with degrees in Computer Science and English Literature and a love for writing poetry that he seldom shares on social media.

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