Illustration by William Banzai
Illustration by William Banzai

It’s lamentable that our people are not unaccustomed to things magically disappearing, and a few missing leftist pages on Facebook naturally sink to the bottom of our priority list. But that doesn’t mean we are unfazed by the latest trend of snapping one’s fingers and making all that which doesn't agree with the status quo, vanish into thin air.

Pakistan’s political arena is majorly a battlefield, stretching exclusively from the far-right to the center. Leftists, liberals and seculars dare each other to touch the boundaries – like children challenging one another to enter a ‘haunted’ house – and perform a victory dance when they return 'unshot'.

They have taken some solace in existing, if not openly in the real world, then on the internet; using the social media to keep their side of the discussion alive. Quite bafflingly, even that appears to be ruffling far too many feathers.


Also read: The Facebook faithful


The last couple of days have been a tumultuous period for the embattled liberals on social media, as they discovered that many of the secular, left-leaning pages on Facebook had been allegedly removed. It’s particularly ironic that some of these pages, ardently protesting to bring back the missing Balochs, have themselves gone missing. Whoever’s responsible for their disappearance, could not have sung these pages a more fitting swansong; one that allows their owners and their legions of followers to turn to Pakistan and say,

See what we’re talking about?

I do not use the word ‘legions’ casually. ‘Laal’, one of the missing pages, had over 400,000 followers, supposedly making it the largest leftist Facebook page in South Asia. Others too enjoyed sizeable audiences.

So where did they all disappear?

Facebook has a contentious history of blocking profiles and pages that needn’t be, while allowing some obviously offensive pages to remain operational (especially, if they post in languages other than English). A good example of the latter, is the outrageous amount of time, and a vehement campaign by concerned Pakistan Facebook users, it took for the social media giant to take down a page posting compromising pictures of young boys with unconscionable captions.

Facebook admits that the decisions are not always made in accordance with its own judgments. It periodically receives demands from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information Technology to block access to pages with blasphemous content or “criticism of the state”; demands that Facebook occasionally honors.


Also read: Facebook - Pakistan government requests report 2013


The owners and followers blame PTA for the assault on their freedom of expression; some claiming that the organisation has itself confirmed that it did so. The move does fit well into this body’s usual work pattern. The very mention of PTA, to the social media cognoscenti, invokes the image of an internet monarch with a bear pelt around his shoulders, banning whatever he subjectively deems harmful or offensive.

Did they expect us to not notice, or request a formal explanation?

Do the hundreds of thousands of followers of these pages spontaneously combust?

Or do they come around even more determined and sagacious, to form new groups and pages?

It’s time Facebook overcomes its identity crisis, and clearly defines what it stands for. It isn’t becoming of an entity that spearheaded the social media revolution to be silencing the expressions of private citizens for being indigestible for their authorities.

Does Facebook, then, exist merely to serve the whims of governments around the world? Is it just as enslaved to the Big Brother as most of our countrymen today or could it be the impartial voice-for-everyone platform we so desperately need in these times of repression?

As for the PTA, it must realise that its regulatory powers have to have some restrictions when dealing with people’s speech on the internet. Or at least, it should mirror the same determination in managing the constellation of pages supporting extremist elements and spewing vitriol against Pakistani minorities.


List of Facebook pages allegedly blocked:

  • https://www.facebook.com/laalpak
  • https://www.facebook.com/RoshniPakistan3
  • https://www.facebook.com/talibaansarezalimaans
  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zalaan/223785781093636
  • https://www.facebook.com/Bhensaa
  • https://www.facebook.com/LashkareBhangvi
  • https://www.facebook.com/saeenjii

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The author is a doctor from Rawalpindi who writes mostly about science and prevalent social issues.

He tweets @FarazTalat.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (12) Closed




Razor
Jun 06, 2014 03:51pm

Faraz, pakistani.meem's page has updated a status informing all that it had unpublished itself witnessing the progression of bans to save itself. Other pages, although remain banned. I thought this correction should be made. This issue needs to be internationalized for free speech and future of progressive ideals in Pakistan.

''''This is to announce that when we analyzed the progression under which majority of liberal/secular/progressive left leaning pages were being blocked by FB on PTA's complaint, we took a prudent step to unpublish the page, so that we could manage to get going again at a suitable time.

WE NEVER GOT BLOCKED.

Spread the word about it and if we ever get blocked, we would be back pretty soon. That is a promise. What's troubling at the moment is the thought that PTA has been infiltrated by religious extremist elements. ''''

This is a part of their status update.

Sarmad
Jun 06, 2014 03:59pm

Fair points. But why do I need to know what your day job is?

Haris
Jun 06, 2014 04:17pm

Nicely put!

i shall like to quote this line: "Leftists, liberals and seculars dare each other to touch the boundaries."

Will someone care to enlighten me with these terms? anyone please?? Are these terms different?

HST
Jun 06, 2014 04:18pm

@author. I follow many of these pages so I am not criticizing your concerns but none of these pages are blocked by Facebook. I don't live in Pakistan and I can access all of them without any problems (just went through each link you posted). So most likely, these pages are just blocked by some local firewall in Pakistan.

WhoWasThatMaskedMan
Jun 06, 2014 04:24pm

Last year one of the government officials have claimed in LHC that PTA has a covert deal with Facebook on banning pages that it want banned. This news was mentioned in some blogs and on twitter, I'm not sure how true it is. Facebook is a business and runs like one without caring for principles. However, PTA should serve interests of all groups not just one that gets offended by anything that others say or have their feelings hurt by anything and everything posted on the internet.

Shah
Jun 06, 2014 07:12pm

More likely these pages have been blocked in Pakistan, since that's all the govt is good for.

Tanzeel
Jun 06, 2014 08:23pm

@HST Facebook usually ban access to pages from within certain countries at the request of local authorities. They've admitted as much publicly.

UsmanSk
Jun 07, 2014 06:02am

Facebook pages have the option to hide themself in some country. These sudo liberal pages are using that option to defame Pakistan.

Amjad Wyne
Jun 07, 2014 08:37am

In a country where law and order is in shambles, level of crime is unbearable, catching criminals is impossible, justice system is non-existence, government is dysfunctional, lives are less in value than a penny, corruption is out of control, schools are bombed, women and minorities cannot find a place to hide, abductions are common and your concern is "disappearance of a few left leaning Facebook pages"...Wake up guys

Umar
Jun 07, 2014 03:52pm

How can you all be so sure that these pages were actually banned and this wasn't a publicity stunt? What if the owners themselves took the pages offline? Kindly produce any notification (official) which has stated that they were banned?

Imran
Jun 09, 2014 02:38pm

@Umar, do you live under a rock?

Has the Chinese government ever produced a report on Tiananmen Square? Do you expect PTA to come out and publish and official notification detailing the pages blocked and the reasons for it?

The answer to both questions my friend, is a resounding NO!

abrar
Jun 11, 2014 05:54am

@Umar Bhai, People from outside of Pakistan can see these pages. Only people within Pakistan can not. Hope that answers you question.