The Supreme Court on Wednesday hinted at banning YouTube in Pakistan over ‘objectionable content’. This news comes a day after live-streaming app Bigo was banned and TikTok was issued a ‘final notice’ over ‘obscenity’. Earlier this month, PTA had also banned the popular video game PUBG — which I wrote on — that sparked an uproar on social media. Now would be a good time to talk about the whole ‘ban culture’ in Pakistan and how it’s not only ridiculous, but also harmful.
Most importantly, these bans are attacks on the already-measly freedom of expression in Pakistan. Justice Amin, in Wednesday’s hearing, remarked that “There are several countries where YouTube is banned. Try uploading content against America and the European Union.”
Think for a second: Is it really a good idea to compare Pakistan to countries where YouTube is banned—countries like North Korea, Iran, and China? Is that the bar of freedom we want to set for ourselves. The other part of the statement is totally false. There is a lot of ‘anti-America’ content on YouTube, from videos about its colonial crimes (how the US stole an Island) to Noam Chomsky’s documentary on US media propaganda to monologues about the CIA’s ‘murderous’ history. None of that content is banned or censored in the US. This isn’t to say that America is perfect or even good when it comes to free expression, but to show just how wrong the statement of Justice Amin is.
YouTube has been banned before too. In September 2012, it was banned from Pakistan and remained so for more than three years. This move, sparked by a blasphemous short film uploaded on YouTube, set us back years in digital content production. Prominent Pakistani YouTubers continue to criticize the ban to this day for that reason. Moreover, why should ordinary internet users and creators suffer because someone in the US uploaded something offensive to YouTube? It didn’t make any sense to ban the whole website for that, yet we didn’t have any access to the site for years. Now we have the same situation with the PUBG and Bigo ban, and the potential future TikTok and YouTube ban.
These platforms, while not perfect, are useful spaces for young people to express their talents and earn some money for their families. For many people, it’s their sole source of income. Banning those platforms entirely removes their sources of income. These bans are also at odds with the Digital Pakistan initiative launched by PM Imran Khan, which he said would “unleash the youth’s potential.” Banning PUBG, YouTube, or TikTok will have the exact opposite effect, as it will prohibit the youth from using those platforms for their creative content.
Moreover, such bans disproportionally affect the lower-class, less tech-savvy internet users, as those with more advanced knowledge of the internet easily find ways to go around the bans through VPNs or browsers like Tor. If we are to ban every social media site that contains ‘objectionable content’, we would, quite frankly, have to ban every social media site on the internet. There’s no social media site that can regulate each and every one of its users’ posts or comments.
If we ban everything that’s ‘addictive’ and a ‘waste of time’ (like we banned PUBG), we would, again, have to ban every social media and entertainment site there is. We might as well just do away with the internet and become North Korea, no?
Our authorities need to realize that they cannot control what an individual chooses to view on the internet, and they shouldn’t either as long as they’re not committing a crime. Adults can handle ‘objectionable content’ on social media. The government doesn’t need to be so authoritarian about it. As for children, there are age guidelines for every app out there. For example, TikTok is rated for ages 13 and above, and PUBG is rated for ages 16 and above on the Google Play Store. What the government can and should do on that front is to educate parents on monitoring their children’s internet usage and teach them about age ratings.
It shouldn’t be up to the state to look after everyone’s internet usage like they’re toddlers. It should be the responsibility of the people themselves.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions represented in this article belong to the author alone and do not represent the views and opinions of Team ProperGaanda.
Featured picture credits: BBC