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X remains intermittently down in Pakistan

Popular social media platform X, formerly Twitter, services remained intermittently down on Monday in Pakistan after it was restored earlier today after an over 36-hour blockade since Saturday (February 17).

NetBlocks — a global internet monitor — had reported on Saturday the “national-scale disruption to X amid escalating unrest and protests over allegations of election fraud, following a high-level resignation and public admission of vote manipulation” by Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaqat Ali Chatha, who admitted to rigging under his watch, triggering a fresh wave of controversy over poll results.

In an update on Sunday, the watchdog had noted the continuous restriction of the platform which it said was “the latest and longest in a series of nation-scale internet censorship measures imposed by authorities.”

It is, however, important to note that X was restored for half an hour yesterday but was blocked again while the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is not responding to queries.

Speaking to Geo News, Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, slammed the authorities for imposing restrictions on the internet.

“We witnessed in the last three months that 5,6 times social media apps were blocked in Pakistan and not only this mobile internet was blocked on election day and the next day,” he noted.

This is a very concerning matter, he said, as not only do the laws or the Constitution restrict the government from blocking the internet, but the Sindh High Court had also issued an order in this regard restraining the authorities from cutting the connection.

Many people are now of the view that the irregularities that took place in the results compilation were due to internet blockage, raising questions on the whole democratic process of elections, the activist mentioned.

“The PTA chairperson should be asked as to why there are so many restrictions on internet services in Pakistan which is affecting the country’s overall investment climate and especially the IT sector.”

He agreed with the anchorperson that these blockades hit the IT businesses hard and according to Netblocks — which monitors the internet globally — Pakistan suffers a loss of $53 million if the internet is shut down for one day.

Khilji said that the Pakistan Institute for Development Economics — a government body — had estimated a loss of Rs1.3 billion due to the Internet blockade.

“Not only this it also harms your image and impacts the ease of doing business. The IT sector, which is the only growing sector and bringing forex to the country, also gets hurt as foreign investors don’t like working with us.”

He dispelled the impression that social media gives a boost to disinformation only and stated that there are platforms available for self-correction.

“Many people argue that there must be laws to deal with fake news and disinformation but who will decide what is fake news and if disinformation is spread by the state then it won’t take responsibility for this and penalize its own officials.

“So we must utilise self-correction and co-regulation mechanisms to counter this. Not only this, there are options to report such reports to social media platforms which must be used as well.”


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