New Media, Legislations & Activism in the Digital Age

New Media in the digital age is being used for many good, bad and the ugly ambitions of human society. We saw the glimpses of its real influence to disrupt years of dictatorial regimes in Arab Spring and previous to that in Pakistan during the famous Black Movement resulting in bringing democracy and restoring the rule of law. We have also seen the same tool being used to promote propaganda in the new age information warfare such as in Iran’s green revolution and at times used to distort the reality in ongoing conflicts and human rights violations in others. We have also seen people being charged and persecuted for expressing themselves on the new media like recently in Indiaand in worst cases the users of the new media became the victims of brutal violence like in Mexico.

In this rapidly changing age of communications new media especially social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have raised profound questions on traditional mass media’s balance in reporting and framing events. It has also challenged authorities’ particularly authoritarian regimes in controlling the free flow of information like recently in Syria resulting in many developed and developing countries introducing some form of legislations to legalize interception of communications to catch “terrorists”. Recently Pakistan followed the same footsteps and introduced a draconian legislation i.e. “The Fair Trail Bill 2012” allowing government agencies to intercept private communications such as phone calls, SMS, emails, social media etc in order to catch “terrorists”. Rights groups have been very concerned over the legislation with the possible misuse of the law by state institutions in targeting human rights activists especially in the volatile province of Balochistan which has seen an alarming rise in deadly violence against human rights activists, lawyers, students and journalistsin particular.

The lack of media coverage by traditional mass media to the heinous crimes committed in the modern age especially in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and in some parts of Africa by both state and non state entities has resulted in new age activists utilizing new media especially Twitter and Facebook to highlight the grave human rights violations being committed. What is particularly interesting is the way the new media is being used in conflict areas deserving a separate post on its own. But in short most of the tweets stress on the shortcomings of traditional mass media in its failure to report the human rights violations taking place in the region and for governments in taking action. The huge amount of information available on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube can give a detailed idea on the ongoing situation and off course it also gives a platform to propagate acts of barbarianism like in thisvideo from Pakistan’s Balochistan province uploaded by terrorists to glorify their causes and actions (user discretion advised for watching the video) and in other scenarios it also highlights World War II like human rights atrocities still being committed by regimes in the modern age.

With governments around the world trying to figure out how to control the onslaught of new media many developing countries like Pakistan with controversial record for civil liberties and individuals rights have introduced new legislation allowing security agencies to intercept any forms of communications making new age digital activism not only difficult but dangerous as well especially for the novice activists who use a camera enabled mobile phone and Internet connection for activism both against the state and non state actors. In a recent statementpro-government faction of the Pakistani Taliban led by Commander Mullah Nazeer also banned mobile phones with built in digital cameras and memory cards in Wana sub division of troubled South Waziristan. The Mullah Commander has previously set a blaze hundreds of mobile phones with built in camera and memory cards as well.

The way use of modern technologies especially mobile phones and Internet have rattled governments around the world I expect to see more legislation legalizing the use of interception, surveillance and employing the kill switch for digital technologies not just only to catch terrorists but also keep the populace under check.

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