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Axing X

Editorial Board
Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

For a country that keeps saying it is actively seeking to grab digitization opportunities, Pakistan’s aversion to certain networking sites is puzzling. On Saturday, for the nth time now, the country faced a nationwide shutdown of X, formerly Twitter. The platform has become a target of the Pakistani government since last year, with our not-so-tech-savvy authorities thinking that blocking the website helps them prevent chaos in society. Since the election, which was held 12 days back, social media users have been sharing unverified information about what transpired on February 8. But instead of countering allegations with facts, the government has decided to shoot the messenger – blocking the website in the country to contain the spread of sensational news bites. This approach, as pointed out by several digital rights activists and lawyers, serves no one and can only be categorized as a blatant violation of human rights, keeping people deliberately away from accessing information. To make a bad thing even worse, on Election Day, ‘authorities’ shut down mobile services across the country. No democracy worth its name can use such ill-thought-out strategies to suppress people’s voices – and get away uncriticized. It is frustrating that the Pakistan government continues to repeat the same mistake over and over – our very own X factor it would seem.

That X/Twitter has a fake news problem is no news. Ever since Elon Musk took over, the platform has taken a hit. Layoffs and voluntary resignations resulted in content moderation teams packing up their belongings, paving the way for fake news peddlers and bots to spread mis/disinformation. Tech experts had already warned that the lack of moderation on the platform could lead to misinformation about general elections in countries preparing for this important exercise. But the Pakistan government did not pay much attention to this. Successive governments in the country rarely see social media for what it is – a platform that can greatly amplify a certain narrative and reach the target audience in the shortest time. Most leaders still see the social media bubble as inconsequential, unable to cause any major disruptions.

But the 2024 elections proved otherwise when a large number of voters took to social media to raise concerns about the transparency of the elections, leaving the authorities to take hasty decisions to control the flow of information. Misinformation on X can be tackled more efficiently. Local content moderation teams can be set up to report the accounts guilty of sharing fake news or misinformation. Similarly, fact-checked news reports should be posted frequently to drown out the accounts guilty of sensationalism. But blocking an entire website for some vague goals is not the answer, certainly not in this digital age.