Did Ahsan Iqbal and Imran Khan not get the memo about not using Twitter? Or was the ban only for the general public?

Published: November 27, 2017
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What undoubtedly added to the panic on Saturday was the fact that both social and electronic media were shut down by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).

A bunch of religious hardliners taking over a country may seem like something a government may be able to control, but this being Pakistan, of course this wasn’t the case. After weeks of inaction, when the government finally decided to do something about the Faizabad protesters, it was to deploy the police, and unless one slept through Saturday, everyone is by now aware of the chaos that ensued following the government’s failed attempt at an operation.

What undoubtedly added to the panic on Saturday was the fact that both social and electronic media were shut down by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). People could exchange messages on WhatsApp or call their friends and family, but there was no way for the masses to know exactly what was going on as all our TV news channels were down.

Sitting down at work, we had to access our Facebook page and Twitter, but strangely, they would not open – starting a panic because most of our work is via social media. We came to realise that the government had banned social media sites so that people cannot report anything on the ongoing crisis and spread “controversies.” This not just included access of social media through a web browser but also apps on your smart phones. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram were all victims of the government’s haphazard response. The only thing that escaped was Snapchat, and people were seen using it to spread news about the frenzied situation.

The government made many mistakes on Saturday when it tried to deal with the protesters in Islamabad, and shutting the media was perhaps one of the biggest. What was a move to reduce the coverage of the protests ended up creating mass panic, and made the situation seem even worse than it actually was, since no one could rely on the media to diffuse the panic that had set.

When news channels were shut off all of a sudden, speculation was high as to what was going on, making it seem like something big – like an emergency – was about to take place. After all, the last time we saw such a media blackout was in 2007 during the Lal Masjid siege. More importantly, in the midst of this panic, no one could gauge how safe it was to step outside and leave their homes because no reliable medium was available to the public to gather if it was safe to leave their homes or not.

This being Pakistan – a country where YouTube was banned till last year for allowing blasphemous content on its platform – of course there were those in the public who resorted to proxies and VPNs in order to access banned social media platforms and rant about the futility of it all. People went on Twitter and talked about this ‘Black Day’ where the government seemingly managed to unite all of Pakistan over the matter of its inefficiency at handling the situation.

What was perhaps more irksome was to see our leaders using the same platforms that had earlier been banned by the government, to communicate with the public. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the official spokesperson of Pakistan Armed forces Major General Asif Ghafoor and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan were all tweeting away. All these “law abiding” citizens of Pakistan had to be using a VPN (which is illegal), since they are all in Pakistan at the moment.

Ahsan himself was the person involved in the banning of social media, how is it fair then for him to be using twitter to bash the protesters. When asked about this, he responded by saying that the ban was lifted and Twitter was working when he tweeted. No Sir, Twitter was not working – half of the Pakistanis were still using proxies and draining their phone batteries to use their social media platforms to know what’s happening in the country. It was because of your inability to control the situation that led to this turmoil in the first place. Depriving the public of their right to speak and know what is happening is just adding to the pile of mess that you and your government created.

Imran, the upholder of the law and the bringer of justice, was tweeting out his statement on the scenario during the ban. Khan Sahib probably forgot that the ban was intact or maybe the ban was rigged and was only applicable for the general public. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) fans have been excessively bashing Iqbal for tweeting before the ban was lifted, but what about their own leader? We see no one pointing fingers at him. One can’t really blame him since he cannot miss an opportunity to bash Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), ban or not, as he has to remind the world that PML-N is still incompetent and he is the king of the free world.

Social media is now the most efficient way for people to interact, especially in times of uncertainty. It is tasteless of the leadership to continue using a platform that is banned to the larger public. If a policy has been implemented, then it should be mandatory for everyone to follow. If the government has banned social media in an attempt to fix its own failures, then it should, at the very least, have the decency to follow its own policy. How does the government expect its civilians to follow their orders when they themselves cannot control the urge to use social media?

Everyone agrees that the decision was not a good one, however, as usual, it is the general public who ends up suffering the brunt of such inefficiency.

Blogs Desk

Blogs Desk

The Express Tribune Blogs desk.

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