THE country was back in a familiar, dark place last week when the PTA blocked Wikipedia over the charge that it hosted and would not remove ‘objectionable content’ the government deemed blasphemous. After a warning to the information giant to remove the offensive content 48 hours earlier, the regulator went ahead with the ban. The blocking of Wikipedia followed a pattern we have seen numerous times, when major sites and social media platforms have been banned. The country went through years of banning Facebook and YouTube, and periodically bans TikTok when it deems the company isn’t complying with its instructions. The latest target of its censorship whip is a website visited by millions across the world daily to access information. It seems the government is clueless as to how Wikipedia works, and how users are able to edit and add information to its pages.
Much like the bans on other websites and platforms, the new curbs will hurt Pakistanis looking for information, as well as be seen as a negative move by foreign investors. At a time when countries are becoming less restrictive about access to technology and tech firms, Pakistan is going the other way. The previous set-up was obsessed with data being accessible to Pakistani users, and tried to push laws to access data servers and force tech companies to have a brick-and-mortar presence in Pakistan in order to enable its own policing. This shows a mentality where ignorance and fear dictate decisions on technological access, and highlights how poor the understanding of our leaders is. The fact that the authorities banned Wikipedia as a knee-jerk reaction to the accessibility of content they deemed controversial, instead of understanding that it is a crowdsourced website where content can be edited, even by the government, is unfortunate. It only underscores how arbitrarily our government can crack the whip of censorship, and how helpless the citizens are in the face of such ignorant actions.
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2023