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Twitter ban

May 22, 2012

WILL Pakistan ever learn that bans are counterproductive and only serve to make a laughing stock out of us? More importantly, will our decision-makers ever realise that it is futile to try and police the world? Apparently not. A couple of years ago, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, on the directives of the Lahore High Court, blocked at least 800 webpages and URLs, including Facebook and some sections of Wikipedia, for containing allegedly blasphemous material. The move was met with condemnation and derision, particularly since there exist a number of alternate methods of accessing websites that may have been blocked. The only way to comprehensively control access to parts of the Internet is to ensure the entire country is offline and on that occasion the PTA had to back down. But no lessons were learnt. On Sunday, the government blocked Pakistanis’ access to Twitter for eight hours, saying that the website’s administrators had not been forthcoming with the assurance demanded by the authorities here that certain allegedly blasphemous material be removed. Twitter remained offline until a public outcry forced — yet again — a reversal of the ban.

Credit for having the website unblocked was appropriated by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who tweeted “As committed, Twitter has been unblocked but I request (the management) to stop anti-Islam material on Twitter which hurts Muslim Ummah”. That’s all very well, but the only thing Pakistan can do about hurtful things being said in other parts of the world is to ignore them, and show grace by not rising to the bait. The state cannot take upon itself the task of choosing what people may or may not have access to, thereby impeding the flow of information and expression. If there is objectionable material on the Internet, citizens can choose not to access it. The answer does not lie in censorship and bans.