Isolating Pakistanis through Internet Censorship

Pakistan has been at the major epic center of terrorism for more than a decade now facing International isolation in all walks of life ranging from getting visas for education, business and work opportunities, to travelling for leisure purposes and getting a firsthand experience of witnessing different cultures around the world. The lawlessness and brutal war on terror has also discouraged foreign visitors to travel to Pakistan due to security threats and those who manage to travel for compelling reasons have met an indifferent fate while others remain barricaded in posh hotels away from the vibrant society. The result many experts believe is making Pakistanis more and more isolated from the global community.

When you turn to the virtual world being the “Internet” it’s a different story. People from all walks of life with diverse geographic and demographic characteristics have the opportunity to learn and share ideas and information on a global scale but with each coming day it’s being restricted. For many in this country Internet is like a ray of light in the darkness says Anwar a computer science lecturer at a local University in the province of Balochistan. But all the hopes of Internet being a ray of light in the darkness is changing with government totalitarian plans of filtering the Internet further and creating a model similar to Internet in China with strict censorship and blockage mechanisms in place.

The regulatory authority PTA under directives from the government has already blocked access to thousands of URL’s including implementing keyword filtering mainly to block access to porn websites and other objectionable material deemed unsafe for society. The Pakistani internet model if allowed to develop will ultimately resemble to it’s neighboring China “having a fenced-off playground with paternalistic guards”. Instead of focusing on spreading this wonderful technology to urban and rural areas and allowing society to reap benefits from it, the government is investing millions in acquiring technologies to block access to websites, track and analyze users behavior, gauge public opinion and to contain threats by spreading propaganda through a paid cyber army. The goal for a developing country like Pakistan should have been to create policies that will make the Internet accessible to the majority, while reducing poverty and spreading information on health and development issues but it seems to be the other way around.

The question of allowing access to YouTube is still a controversial issue in Pakistan with the government still undecided whether to allow access to it or not. Despite almost reaching two years since its blockage over a controversial video also available on numerous other websites the video sharing site still remains blocked without giving any thought on the social and economic impact of its blockage on Pakistani society. As a world’s largest online video sharing platform YouTube is also the world’s second most popular search engine according to a report from Forrester Research. The impact of YouTube on education and proliferation of knowledge has been immense with Ted curator Chris Anderson asserting that “whatGutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication,” that it’s not far-fetched to say that online video will dramatically accelerate scientific advance, and that video contributors may be about to launch “the biggest learning cycle in human history”. Sadly, Pakistan remains disconnected from participating and benefiting from the biggest learning cycle in human history mainly due to Internet censorship. The story does not end here.

The next half century of education innovation is being shaped right now says founder of Khan Academy operating the largest school in the world with 10 million students and an aim of providing a world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The website features thousands of educational resources with over 100,000 exercise problems, and over 4000 micro lecturers hosted on YouTube. The lectures are also made available in 23 languages including “Urdu” the national language of Pakistan. Despite Pakistan having some of the world’s worst education indicators according to UNESCO and ranked 113 out of 120 countries in the Education Development Index the impact of censoring the Internet in this case YouTube should have been seen as detrimental for education in Pakistan.

The government including all the political parties and NGO has been strident about education reforms in the country and focused on spending more and more donor money on declining results yet still remain abate from using technology for learning in schools. Pakistanis seems to be the unfortunate ones on missing out on the next big thing in learning at your own pace owing to Internet censorship.

Hassan khan, a musician by profession plays “Rubab” a lute like musical instrument in a posh hotel in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. He along with his family of eight moved from South Waziristan to escape a major offensive by the army against the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Struggling to make ends meet he was lucky to be contacted by one of the local hotel managers looking for a musician to play live music with traditional Pakistani cuisine. His music video was spotted on YouTube by Ali the hotel manager while playing at a local wedding function. He was able to get in touch with the uploader of video and get Hassan cell number for the job. He now plays his music every evening and makes a decent living out of it thanks to YouTube.

The access to free flow of information and ideas is as important as freedom of expression. Internet censorship creates obstacles in advancement of society both economically and socially. As unavailability of Internet access creates isolated societies similarly, internet censorship in the guise of protecting the state, society and religion creates seclusion and further deepens the digital divide. It is important for regulators, politicians and people in authority to understand that filtering the internet will not filter’s people mind and desire for information and freedom of speech. Instead, will advance isolation of society and deter progress of the social order.

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