As a Pakistani woman, I have always viewed social media as a safe haven of sorts where I can share my views and opinions without being sidelined. In a country where women are so often marginalized and subjected to misogynistic trends, social media offers us a form of refuge to express our very constrained freedom. And this is exactly why Pakistan’s latest bans on dating apps and Tik Tok left me appalled. To me, these bans and blocks signify a further limitation of rights for women and the prevalence of sexism and misogyny in the country.
Recently, Tinder, Grindr and other similar dating apps were blocked for disseminating immoral content. This was followed by a ban on Tik Tok as well. According to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), notices were issued to the five dating apps, and companies failed to respond within the stipulated time.
The decision was made to prevent the circulation of ‘immoral and obscene content’. Put simply, the ban on certain apps was imposed to appease the conservative factions of the country.
Pakistan has had a long history of internet/social media bans and blocks. In recent years, the government has banned YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as well. Content is monitored and often removed if it is deemed immoral by the authorities.
The recent blocks have sparked a renewed conversation about the government’s attempts to control the flow of ideas on the internet. Restrictions on social media sites are normalizing censorship. Increased regulation is limiting free speech and paving the way for the conservative factions to benefit from it. The rapidity of ‘moral policing’ is such that it is only realistic to expect a handful of social media sites left to access in the country. The government’s motives are unclear but what it does tell us is that the ban is geared towards suppressing free expression and the endorsement of conservative values in the country.
The ban on Tik Tok felt personal because it is the one platform that gives everyone a chance to express their creativity and showcase their talents.
In the contemporary world, the internet and social media serve as one of the major avenues to express freedom of speech and expression. It is difficult to imagine progress without it. Blocks and restrictions can be a major setback for the upcoming generations, limited and monitored access to the internet will curb ideas and innovation. Amongst other things, it will sabotage the ability of technology in helping to eliminate the negative connotations attached to Pakistan.
The most recent ban on Tik Tok was yet another measure to suppress entertainment and creativity in the country. Tik Tok is one of the only platforms that made a vast majority of the Pakistani population feel welcomed (quite literally). People from various cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds are not only able to access the platform but also produce content that was viewed and appreciated widely.
There was no way to control the flow of information or trends on the app; perhaps this is why it was so threatening. Although, the ban was uplifted in the face of politics. But it felt personal because it is the one platform that gives everyone a chance to express their creativity and showcase their talents.
There have been numerous calls within the country by human rights campaigners to uplift the bans. As much as I want the ban to be unlifted, I cannot help but think we are headed towards a state with strict controls and censorship on the internet and print media. I find it rather daunting because social media seems like the one avenue where I can truly voice my opinions in a country where women are so often silenced.
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