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Qamar Cheema |

In this age of complex interdependence, the world is facing power transition and power diffusion. Erosion of power, new patterns of governance, cross-cutting communities and unchecked flow of information are some factors that are changing the nature of power. States are the dominant actors in the whole saga, but the stage seems to be crowded and is therefore difficult to control.

With the absence of any filtering, fact checking, and editorial judgment, information is traveling beyond borders while ignoring territorial jurisdiction.

Governments are worried due to the information revolution because the low cost of computing gave access to corporations and terrorists. About 80 percent of the world’s information is being created on emails, online videos, and World Wide Web (www). With the presence of computing and communication, we now have an unbridled form of social media which is different from the traditional media structure.

With the absence of any filtering, fact checking, and editorial judgment, information is traveling beyond borders while ignoring territorial jurisdiction. States use social media for digital diplomacy and digital warfare. From physical sanctuaries to virtual sanctuaries, the death of distance has changed the theater of war. The Arab Spring is a classic example of a political activity where social media gave voice to the voiceless and marginalized sections of society. Now Facebook live, Periscope, YouTube live, Instagram live and many other social media tools are being used by individuals at home and state has no filters to stop their interaction.

Read more: Story of a “Social Media Activist” arrested for National Security Breach…!

Social Media Revolutions

The Arab Spring is a classic example of a political activity where social media gave voice to the voiceless and marginalized sections of society. Now Facebook live, Periscope, YouTube live, Instagram live and many other social media tools are being used by individuals at home and state has no filters to stop their interaction.

The diplomatic breakdown between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors have made it clear that cyber and information warfare has actually deteriorated relations without even firing a single shot. Although many believe Gulf neighbors were not happy with Qatar because of its active relation with Iran, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood but they used this cyber hacking as an excuse.

So far, US investigation in the hacking issue suggests the possibility of Russian involvement. But there is no clarity yet. Earlier, cyber tools were used for their own public and enemies like Iran but now the same tools are for intra-GCC diplomatic warfare.

Read more: Crackdown on social media draws ire from all quarters

Fanatics on the social media

A research by a newspaper recently revealed that there are 64 banned outfits in Pakistan, of which 41 use social media and have hundreds of Facebook pages.

India is promoting the idea of digital India but Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report that there have been 20 internet shutdowns in 2017 alone. Since 2012, there have been 79 shutdowns according to Software Freedom Law Centre. India is the world’s largest democracy, but social media shutdowns have not followed legal procedures and the reasons given for the blockades have been weak.

Rights groups think that lack of transparency and failure to explain shutdown is to suppress non-violent reporting and criticism of the government. United Nations have condemned social media shut downs because it downplayed freedom of expression and opinion in Jammu and Kashmir where authorities blocked 22 social media sites. Students and researchers who use the internet have to wait months for the unblocking of these sites which cause losses in this age of knowledge economy.

In Pakistan, the government is criticized for not doing enough to control the use of social media by banned outfits. A research by a newspaper recently revealed that there are 64 banned outfits, of which 41 use social media and have hundreds of Facebook pages. Banned outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) has more than 200 pages and many other ethnic and sectarian groups own a number of pages. The state has let all of that happen, which means either it is compromising on its sovereignty or does not have the tools to curb the matter.

Pakistan’s interior minister has been severely criticized for meeting with leaders of banned outfits whose operate freely on social media and the government has done nothing. But interior minister has also threatened to block all social media sites which had blasphemous content forgetting all domestic and international legal avenues which people of Pakistan have for freedom of expression. Does Pakistan have the infrastructure to rewire the way people spread and consume information?

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Meddling in state affairs

Authorities should have zero tolerance for social media users who are spreading hatred of any sort. It is the responsibility of all, including the state, to educate its citizens on the usage of social media. Digital space should be expanded for better solutions and we must understand that banning social media is never the solution.

Be it American or French polls, there have been reports that hackers and social media users have been influencing the process. Commercial priorities of social media sites shape Algorithmic logic. French President Emmanuel Macron complained just before elections that someone is hacking his election websites. Even states like France that have cutting-edge information tools could not figure out and protect its presidential candidate’s secret information. Russia has been slammed by US and France because of influencing elections which Russia denies.

States like Pakistan will have to think deeper on it. With an absence of big data and opaque legal contracts with social media sites, Pakistan and its institutions have little space to manage social media in a way that freedom of expression is not compromised. Authorities should have zero tolerance for social media users who are spreading hatred of any sort. It is the responsibility of all, including the state, to educate its citizens on the usage of social media. Digital space should be expanded for better solutions and we must understand that banning social media is never the solution.

The writer, Qamar Cheema, is a strategic analyst. He teaches International Politics in NUML Islamabad and is working on Ph.D. Dissertation on confessional parties. He tweets at @Qamarcheema. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

The write is a strategic analyst. He teaches International Politics in NUML Islamabad and is working on Ph.D. Dissertation on confessional parties.

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