X disruption

Published March 7, 2024

DESPITE a court order directing the restoration of citizens’ access to popular microblogging platform X and past rulings against the blockage of internet services, the social media service has remained inaccessible in Pakistan for more than two weeks.

Though such decisions are usually officially ‘justified’ by the authorities based on some pretext or the other, this time, the state does not seem too bothered about providing any explanation as to why users are being denied access to X.

This ‘strategic ambiguity’ from the authorities has added to the confusion surrounding the status of the service in Pakistan.

For example, according to an account shared by one of the lawyers representing a case against the suspension of X, a representative of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority — which, among other things, also regulates internet access — flatly denied that the service was blocked during a Tuesday hearing on the matter in the Sindh High Court.

He then attempted to convince the judge by pointing to an open X application on his phone as ‘proof’ of a claim that flew in the face of the findings of various international internet watchdogs.

The question arises: if the country’s top regulator is claiming that it is not doing the blocking, who, then, is preventing access to X?

The recently departed caretaker government had acted as if the matter was no big deal: none of the relevant ministers had deigned to comment on or explain why anyone within Pakistan’s territorial boundaries could not access one of the most popular social media platforms in the world without a VPN, even though they were posting on the platform periodically during their last days in office.

The silence from official quarters has continued even though new assemblies have been sworn in, which suggests that the authorities aren’t very concerned that a major internet service remains suspended, apparently without the knowledge of the country’s top regulator.

Given the state’s nonchalance, one would naturally assume that the authorities are either afraid to speak openly on the matter or are deliberately misleading the courts while hoping that the citizenry will quietly accept this new ‘status quo’ over time.

Neither is an acceptable scenario. X is a valuable source of information for millions around the world, and access to it cannot be denied arbitrarily. The state must, at the very least, explain itself.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2024

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