Securing Pakistan’s Digital Frontier: Challenges and Solutions

In this globalized world, social media is a blessing but also potent. In Pakistan, the literacy rate stands at 62.3, signifying that approximately 60 million individuals lack literacy, which is a significant number. Social media use has become a new norm, impacting our lives directly and indirectly. The country, which has such a high literacy rate that most of the population does not know how to use it in beneficial ways, is witnessing an increase in technological crime, such as cyberbullying and spreading false information. Societal views, inadequate legislation, and a lack of moral support make it difficult for victims to pursue legal action. Strengthening the legislative framework and starting national-level initiatives to ensure Pakistan’s digital sovereignty is critical to addressing these difficulties.

The landscape of Pakistan’s social media network (SMN) law is rapidly evolving due to government policies to increase oversight of digital content, including SMNs. The regulations aim at tackling cyberbullying, hate speech, and misinformation. A good example is the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, which state that SMNs must delete anything considered illegal by authorities within 24 hours. Throughout the world, SMNs grapple with the tension between their freedom of expression and the need to adhere to rules. Opponents of such measures argue that they could breach people’s rights and lead to censorship. Problems arise when protecting the public from harm without compromising their right to free speech or privacy.

As the number of incidents of gender-based online harassment continues to climb, Pakistan must immediately pass strict legislation to safeguard women’s online autonomy and rights. Threats to individual security and IP rights come from virus distribution, data exploitation, and the illegal appropriation of creative works. 

Regulating Social Media: Safeguarding Online Freedom

 It is essential to note that promoting intolerance and discrimination would exacerbate societal divisions and weaken social cohesiveness. The Internet has provided a haven for political and religious extremists, who may use it to disseminate ideas that might destabilize the country. Social media politicization is a prime example of how the propagation of misinformation fuels political unrest and widespread dissatisfaction. No matter what happens to PECA in 2022 or 2023, problems like cyberbullying, defamation of institutions, and digital fraud will still exist. These matters require a more robust legal basis.

Pakistan must establish transparent legal frameworks and international collaboration channels to empower victims of online defamation and guarantee accountability. Creating a Digital Rights Protection Authority (DRPA) is a significant step in safeguarding individuals, groups, and genders in SMNs. This organization’s dual goals will be protecting individuals’ digital rights and the “Digital Sovereignty of Pakistan,” a concept gaining traction in Pakistan as the nation seeks to address the intricate challenges posed by the Internet.

A concerted effort, including new rules and the participation of social media companies, is necessary to improve internet safety. Governments must hold SMNs accountable by creating regulatory frameworks and international accords. By following these guidelines, we can ensure that the online community treats people’s rights violations fairly and responsibly.

The Quest for Privacy:

Social media platforms and online services collect and share personal data without consent, compromising individual privacy and vulnerability to cyber criminals. This leads to identity theft and financial fraud. Unchecked bullying, stalking, and hate speech can cause emotional distress and harm. Corporations exploit users without fair compensation or transparency, leaving them with permanent online records of their activities. The “right to be forgotten” empowers individuals to manage their digital footprint and online reputation, but it must be part of the regulations.

Social media defamation can cause irreparable harm to an individual’s reputation, cause emotional distress, and strain personal and professional relationships. Social media’s public nature amplifies negative comments’ impact, making it difficult for individuals to escape scrutiny. The lack of stringent rules regarding personal defamation necessitates further legal improvements. The complexity of addressing defamation cases across jurisdictions highlights Pakistan’s urgent need for robust digital rights protection. A damaged reputation can lead to job loss, rejection from social or professional circles, and damage to business prospects. The complexity of defamation cases across jurisdictions necessitates further legal improvements.

Digital Dilemmas: Harassment, Frauds, and Hate in the Age of Misinformation

Pakistani women are facing harassment, cyberbullying, and online violence on social media platforms. While most countries have appropriate social media regulations to regulate SMN companies, Pakistan lacks state control, resulting in weak and non-functional content. This deficiency in digital sovereignty rights undermines Pakistan’s digital autonomy. Despite the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) approved in 2016 and its amendments in 2022–23, online abuses against women persist in Pakistan, particularly on SM platforms. Pakistan is not a signatory to SMN companies, so local laws and authorities cannot control the content, as most states have attained digital sovereignty rights. The government has made efforts through the PECA, but online abuses against women persist in Pakistan.

The lack of unauthorized use and distribution of creative works on social media platforms, specific laws addressing theft and misuse of proprietary code, unethical practices by tech firms, and the unchecked spread of malware, spam, and online waste pose significant challenges to software security and innovation. Additionally, the increased circulation of content with embedded malware degrades the digital environment and poses security risks to users.

Social media in Pakistan often promotes hate speech and stereotypes against minorities, leading to a blurred line between freedom of speech and hate speech. This perpetuates marginalization and tensions within society. Political arguments can hijack intellectual discussions on social media, deteriorating discourse quality and fueling polarization. Religious beliefs and practices can also attract radicals, threatening national unity, stability, and security. Social media platforms also contribute to societal chaos and unrest by spreading extremist ideologies, misinformation, and sensationalism, ultimately undermining the government’s authority and legitimacy and causing further societal turmoil.

What need to be done?

India is actively working to strengthen its legal framework regarding online platforms and social media by issuing removal orders for content considered illegal or counter to the public interest. A safe online environment is required to foster gender equality and ensure women’s active participation in digital spaces. A Digital Rights Protection Authority is essential for safeguarding the rights of individuals, groups, and communities on social media. This authority can monitor and address cyberbullying, harassment, and other forms of digital abuse.

Governments should prioritize “digital sovereignty” by allowing social media companies to become signatory states. The nation must act now to put an end to the harassment and assault of women that occurs on social media. Companies cannot set up a regulatory framework for SMMs and their content without signing agreements overseen by government authorities. 

Achieving the national “Digital Sovereignty of Pakistan” goal necessitates concrete measures to reduce online abuse and its consequences. Issues such as online harassment, data privacy, content moderation, and the protection of government and institutional bodies are areas where the state’s legal framework substantially impacts SMNs. The state is responsible for developing and implementing regulations to ensure responsible behavior from SMNs while protecting people’s rights.

Cooperation with global peers is necessary to develop uniform regulatory policies that cut across national borders.

Abdul Mussawer Safi
Abdul Mussawer Safi

Abdul Mussawer Safi is associated to think tank such as institute of Policy studies Islamabad (IPS) and pursuing his master’s in International Relations from National Defense University Islamabad. His expertise lies in the regional dynamics of South Asia.

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