Social Media Rules

The government certainly passed its social media rules, titled the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020”, too quickly and without proper due diligence. The rules came as a surprise, even to major stakeholders like social media companies and digital rights foundations who complained they had not even been consulted. It is thus not shocking then that the rules received backlash and consequently prompted the Islamabad High Court to make them subject to review.

It is good then the govt has acknowledged the criticism the rules received and has acted accordingly. PM Imran Khan has constituted an inter-ministerial committee to review the controversial social media guidelines.

It is hoped that the committee will conduct a proper review, taking in input from relevant stakeholders. Some of the major criticisms directed at the rules should also be considered, and if the committee amends or retains any of the problematic provisions, an explanation should be given.

Some of the worrying rules include directing service providers and social media companies to deploy appropriate mechanisms to identify online content that should be blocked under these rules, with the guidelines for what content should be blocked left extremely vague.

Terms like “obscene” and “immoral” are not defined, creating space for subjective and arbitrary interpretations. Keeping in line the government’s record on blocking digital content through Section 37, it leaves the door open for arbitrary bans, infringing on the freedom of speech and expression, including but not limited to dating applications and online games.

The rules also need to be amended to keep a balanced relationship with social media companies. Currently, sections in the Rules hold that they take precedence over any contrary community guidelines of service providers and social media companies. This essentially requires big technology companies to create a separate regulatory system for Pakistan, a move that could push them out of the country.

Alienating the relevant stakeholders could devastate the digital industry in Pakistan. The government needs to conduct this review carefully and with a modern approach.

Source : The Nation (Editorial)

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