Twitter has clarified that the disruption to services in Pakistan and beyond was not caused from their end. It said the company had so far not seen any indications of an outage on its server. The clarification has been offered after #TwitterDown was the top trend in Pakistan.
“Sunday’s disruption of social media and video meeting services in Pakistan is evidenced by multiple datasets and presents a setback for user rights. While citizens remain housebound they are reliant on digital platforms, making it essential that authorities and network operators act transparently and proportionately in keeping with international standards,” Alp Toker, Executive Director of the NetBlocks internet observatory, told daily Dawn.
Twitter, a popular social media platform, stopped working in some parts of Pakistan on Sunday. However, the users were able to access their account only using the Virtual Private Network (VPN). Twitter has, till now, not responded to the complaints on this issue. Some analysts and foreign media blamed the state of Pakistan for censoring social media to disrupt the SAATH Virtual Conference, being held to discuss the issue of enforced disappearances of minorities in Pakistan.
Some say today's Internet/Zoom outages in #Pakistan were caused by the state to censor #SAATHVirtualConf2020, which ironically focused on the state's media crackdowns.
Sorry to rain on the parade, but there were outages around the world, including the US.https://t.co/QHy4s6nEDp
— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) May 18, 2020
“Disruption to Twitter and Periscope registered across Pakistan with impact to multiple networks; incident ongoing,” said NetBlocks.org, an internet’s observatory which tracks disruptions and shutdowns across the world.
Activist Ammar Rashid said “So lots in Pakistan saying Twitter has stopped working for them & they’re having to use it via VPN. I’m using it without VPN right now but its extremely slow & barely anything is loading. Very strange. @TwitterSupport”
So lots in Pakistan saying Twitter has stopped working for them & they're having to use it via VPN. I'm using it without VPN right now but its extremely slow & barely anything is loading. Very strange. @TwitterSupport
— Ammar Rashid (@AmmarRashidT) May 17, 2020
PTA asked to explain outages
Meanwhile, Usama Khilji — director of Bolo Bhi, a Pakistan-based advocacy, policy, and research organisation focusing on digital rights and freedom of expression — urged the government to take notice of the disruption.
“@PTAofficialpk should confirm blocking of Twitter in Pakistan on Sunday, May 17, 2020; and cabinet should take notice of this outrage of Twitter services for Pakistani citizens,” he tweeted.
Speaking to Dawn, digital rights activist and lawyer, Nighat Dad, said: “Initial results from the testing carried out by the Digital Rights Foundation and Netblocks shows that Twitter and Periscope were blocked in Pakistan on several networks.”
ZOOM Announced it would look into its worldwide outages
It is worth noting that video conferencing service Zoom said Sunday that it was investigating the cause of outages that apparently affected some users’ ability to host and join meetings.
Several churches in the U.S. were affected by the outages, with some migrating to YouTube or Facebook or rescheduling services. Also Zoom issues meant British government officials were not able to take live questions from journalists during their daily press briefing and had to resort to reading out written questions off a screen.
Zoom Video Communications, based in San Jose, California, claims 300 million users, boosted by the tens of millions of employees around the world who were suddenly ordered to work from home as the virus outbreak shut down wide swaths of the economy.
It is important to recall that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) government was planning to strictly regulate digital media. However, tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter have given a strong threat to the Pakistani government. The joint response from Asian Internet Coalition (AIC) might have rattled the Pakistani government as they have threatened to abandon their services in Pakistan, sending 70 million internet users into digital darkness.
Tech companies claim that they are not against the regulation of social media in order to curb the spread of fake news, the way in which these regulations have been enacted has made AIC members re-evaluate their willingness to operate in Pakistan.
Shrinking space for dissent
In recent years the space for dissent has shrunk further in Pakistan, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses decrying pressure from authorities they say has resulted in widespread self-censorship.
Pakistan has a long history of targeting social media sites, including famously blocking Facebook for two weeks in 2010 over blasphemous content and barring YouTube from 2012 to 2016 because of a film about the Prophet Mohammed that led to violent protests across the Muslim world.
At the moment, believe analysts, this appears to be a technical reason getting the Twitter and Zoom down. “Let’s look at the situation with open eyes and you will be able to understand that these sites are facing technical challenges as a greater number of people are using them in the time of COVID-19 outbreak,” said an analyst.