Pakistan might have its biggest ever social media crisis at hand, as companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook have threatened to leave the nation after Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the power to regulate digital content in the country.
The Prime Minister of the country, last week, allowed regulators to have tremendous power over content on social media platforms in the country. The move was undertaken to ensure that any digital content that “harms, intimidates or excites disaffection” towards the government would be regulated.
Moreover, companies failing to remove or block said content in a 24 hour window can face hefty fines, ranging up to $3.14 million.
This move has agitated the Asia Internet Coalition Asia (AIC), which includes the likes of Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line, and Cloudflare.
“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.
The announcement also adds that these rules will make it “extremely difficult” for members of AIC to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. The group says that if Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, it should engage in dialogue with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.
Now, this is not the first time that Pakistan has talked about this stringent level of content moderation. The country had mentioned this law in February this year, but decided to engage in extensive conversation with AIC after these companies threatened to leave the country. However, according to the group, the government failed to follow through on its promise, and has went ahead and passed the law anyway.
It is yet to be seen how the law will be implemented, and if the companies will actually leave Pakistan. This is not the only bout that the country has had with a social media company this year over content moderation, as it has recently banned and then unbanned TikTok over similar reasons.
Pakistan has about 75 million internet users, who will be affected heavily if Google, Twitter and Facebook were to exit from the country, so we expect more information to surface in the coming days.