It was a peculiar – though perhaps unsurprising – decision by the Pakistani authorities to block access to Twitter owing to what the BBC reported were tweets regarded as “offensive to Islam”. Of far greater surprise though was the decision by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to then lift the ban on Sunday May 20th, approximately eight hours after it had been imposed. This story was covered by various media throughout the day, with the following report by NewsX being one amongst many:
Globally, the blocking of Twitter in Pakistan is likely to be regarded as a ‘tech’ or media story. In truth, this is a story that goes far beyond those confines. The real story here is not of Twitter being blocked, but of the citizens of Pakistan being failed yet again by narrow-minded and myopic governance. In many instances, those citizens can make themselves meaningfully heard in no arena other than Twitter and other social media like it. That any government should childishly ban such media is indicative of weakness, not strength.
It should not be beyond any modern society to come together in reasoned, balanced discussion of even the most controversial issues. Moreover, difference of opinion should not be considered as something to run away from. I agree that there are many instances of appalling abuse being directed at people through social media, and these incidents have often, wrongly, been met with general indifference. However, merely having a difference of opinion does not constitute abuse, nor indeed does daring to say something which goes against the hegemony that exists within a territory.
It is very easy for the authorities in Pakistan to block Twitter, but it is far harder to block people. Technologies will come and go, but people will always find new and innovative ways of communicating, and of sharing information and perspectives with each other. Politicians of all countries would do well to keep that in mind.