اردو(Urdu) English(English) عربي(Arabic) پښتو(Pashto) سنڌي(Sindhi) বাংলা(Bengali) Türkçe(Turkish) Русский(Russian) हिन्दी(Hindi) 中国人(Chinese) Deutsch(German)
Thursday, June 13, 2024 16:11
Question of Palestine Eternal Wisdom: Iqbal Building Futures: Empowering Pakistan's Youth for Tomorrow Tourism: An Essential Element for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Connecting Youth to Global Opportunities Algorithms: The Silent Architects of Warfare Pakistani Youth: The Driving Force for National Progress Investing in Future Generations: Pakistan Army Lost Voices: The Systematic Marginalization of Indian Muslims Parallel Struggles: Examining the Palestinian and Kashmiri Quests for Self-determination Emergence of BJP as a Hindutva Force The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Transforming Pakistan Building Sustainable Cities: Urban Search and Rescue Preparedness Simulation Exercise In the Pursuit of Happiness: Understanding Hedonia, Eudemonia, and Naikan COAS’ U.S. Visit: Strengthening Ties and Fostering Collaboration A Biological Marvel of Human Heart Educational Empowerment: FC Balochistan (North) Initiates Literacy Program for Soldiers Digital Pakistan Journey: Pioneering Towards a Connected Future Driving Digital Transformation: Pakistan CJCSC Calls on His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussain During His Visit to Jordan COAS' Peshawar Visit Highlights Security, Socioeconomic Development and National Unity Unity in Diversity: COAS Joins Christmas Celebrations with Christian Community in Rawalpindi Chief of the Naval Staff Attends Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in Bangkok Strengthening Bonds and Elevating Collaboration: Combat Commander Turkish Air Force Calls on Chief of the Air Staff Closing Ceremony of Multinational Special Forces Exercise Fajar Al Sharq-V Strengthens Counterterrorism Collaboration Off the Beaten Track: Exploring Jiwani's Coastal Marvels and Heritage Special Investment Facilitation Council: A Game Changer for the Economy of Pakistan Rising Stars: Pakistan’s Youth Shines Bright in 2023 Indian Supreme Court’s Decision and the International Law Challenges to Justice: The Indian Supreme Court’s Fallacy in IIOJK Belt and Road Initiative: Strengthening Global Ties with Unhindered Trade and Connectivity The Media Matrix: Unraveling How Technology Shapes Our Perception Decoding Human Interaction: The Comprehensive Guide to Reading Body Language The Magic of Moscow On the Same Wavelength: Suno FM's Impact on Community Empowerment, Diversity, and Social Progress in Pakistan The Journey of SAIL: A Beacon of Hope for Autism in Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan National Youth Convention 2024: COAS Stresses Youth's Vital Role, Urges Unity, and National Strength Vice Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Calls on COAS COAS Attends Inauguration Ceremony of the Second Chapter of NASTP Silicon PAF's Induction and Operationalization Ceremony Showcases Technological Advancements and Operational Excellence COAS Witnesses Firing of Different Air Defense Weapon Systems During Exercise Al-Bayza-III, 2024 COAS Visits POF Wah, Highlights Importance of Indigenous Defense Industry Exercise Sea Guard-24: Strengthening Maritime Security Al-Noor Special Children School and College Celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023 in Multan Garrison Exercise BARRACUDA-XII: Strengthening Global Cooperation for Maritime Safety and Environmental Protection Pakistan-Qatar Joint Aerial Exercise "Zilzal-II" Held in Qatar March 23, 1940: Charting the Course for Pakistan's Future Peshawar’s Namak Mandi: A Gemstone Heaven Genocide in Palestine Rising Cities, Shrinking Spaces: Tackling Overpopulation and Urbanization in Pakistan Impact of Pakistan Resolution Day on National Identity Building Leaders: Jinnah and Iqbal's Timeless Wisdom for Today's Youth National Parks–Natural Assets India's New Playbook for Extraterritorial Assassination of Opponents The Legacy of Khan Brothers in Pakistan Armed Forces (Part II) Beyond the Battlefield: AIMH’s Quest for Military History Preservation The Siege of 634 A.D. (Part II) SIFC, From Vision to Reality (Part II) A New Dawn in Pakistan's Agriculture The Crowdsourcing Practices The Last Post: Eulogy of a Hero Securing Tomorrow’s Food: Sustainable Agriculture and Aquaculture in Pakistan The Saindak Copper-Gold Project: A Beacon of Pak-China Friendship and Prosperity Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and COAS Visit Muzaffarabad CJCSC Calls on Minister of Defense, KSA 7th International PATS Exercise-2024 Held at NCTC, Pabbi CNS Visits Coastal Belt of Sindh and Coastal Areas of Balochistan to Oversee the Conduct of Exercise Seaspark-2024 Keel Laying Ceremony of the Second HANGOR Class Submarine Held at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works Chinese Ambassador Calls on Chief of the Air Staff Pakistan Navy Demonstrates Combat Readiness with Live Missile Firing Exercise in the North Arabian Sea PAF's Jf-17 Thunder Block-III Fighter Jet Participates in World Defense Air Show-2024 A Day of Celebration and Global Solidarity: Pakistan Day Parade 2024 Gaza: A Tragedy Beyond Words Better Late than Never... Escalating Tensions: India's Violations of the Indus Waters Treaty Preserving Pakistan Pakistan Day Parade-2024: A Celebration of National Unity and Strength Demolition of Muslim Properties in India: A Weapon of Choice and State Policy Sustainable Energy Transition: Strategies for Pakistan’s Shift towards Renewable Resources and Energy Efficiency The Impact of Climate Change on Global Health: Building Resilient Health Systems SIFC, From Vision to Reality (Part III) Emerging from the Depths: The Pakistan Army Dedicated to Promoting Tolerance and Diversity: Pakistan Army, in Collaboration with the University of Peshawar, Hosts a Successful Grand Peace Fair Pak-Saudi On Job Training 2024 CJCSC Addresses SCO Military Medical Seminar 2024 on Challenges in Military Medicines Loyalty, Honor, Duty: The Pivotal Role of Pakistan Armed Forces in Upholding Peace and Security From Darkness to Light–One Year On: Contemplating May 9, 2023 to May 9, 2024 Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors Global Perspectives on Content Regulation: Examining Network Enforcement Act and Disinformation Laws The Issue of Palestine: A Historical, Religious, and Humanitarian Perspective Modi’s Guarantee and Hindutva Incorporated Divide and Conquer: The Dangerous Surge of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric in Indian Politics India's Hybrid Warfare in Kashmir India: Where the Price of Protest is Death! Pakistani Peacekeepers and the International Peacekeeping Day Empowering Pakistan: Navigating the Path to Sustainable Energy Autarky Overpopulation: Navigating Challenges and Charting Solutions for Pakistan Pakistan and Saudi Arabia Friendship: Dawn of a New Era SIFC, From Vision to Reality (Part IV) A Tale of Two Sultans: Brigadier Sultan Ahmed, SJ & Bar (Part II) In the Footsteps of Valor: A Journey through Peshawar Garrison Pakistan Military Academy Passing Out Parade-2024 CGS Turkish Armed Forces Calls on COAS Green Pakistan Initiative Conference Highlights National Commitment to Agricultural Innovation and Economic Growth Commander Turkish Land Forces Calls on COAS Minister of Foreign Affairs, KSA, Calls on COAS Assistant Minister of Defense, KSA, Calls on COAS PAF Academy Asghar Khan Hosts Prestigious Graduation Ceremony for Aviation Cadets Faculty and Students from Muzaffargarh Government Post Graduate College Visit Multan Garrison SIFC's First Year: Transforming Pakistan's Investment Landscape SIFC’s First Birthday SIFC Building an Investor's Paradise: A Major Improvement in Pakistan's Investment Environment SIFC, From Vision to Reality (Part V) : Driving Growth in Industry, Tourism, and Privatization SIFC and Pakistan’s Economic Landscape: A Year in Review China Social Media in Pakistan: Balancing Risks and Governance for National Security Indian Ambitious “Make in India” Approach for Defense Production: An Appraisal India's Bold Shift: Extraterritorial Killings and Regional Instability as the 'New Normal' Charting a Path Towards Water Sustainability: Pakistan Comparative Analysis of IQ, EQ, SQ and AQ Harboring Opportunities: The Socioeconomic Benefits of Gwadar Port Development for Pakistan and the Region From Gridlock to Green Lanes: OLMRTS Drive Progress Evolution of Multan: A Journey Through the Past, Present, and Future Empowering Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs: The Al Barq e-Business Hub Embracing Tradition: Welcoming the 17th Entry to Military College Sui Balochistan Champions of the Desert: Balochistan Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Girls Cadet College Turbat Hosts First Passing-out Parade Secretary General of Defense and National Armaments, Italy, Calls on CJCSC U.S. CENTCOM Commander Calls on COAS Chief of Defense Forces Australia Calls on COAS Turkish Foreign Minister Visits COAS COAS and CGS UK Army’s Address at 6th Pakistan-UK Regional Stabilization Conference GHQ Investiture Ceremony Held at General Headquarters COAS Extends Condolence to Iran Following Helicopter Crash That Claimed Top Officials CNS visits PLA (Navy) Headquarters China CNS Attends 19th Western Pacific Naval Symposium CNS Attends the Launching Ceremony of 1st HANGOR Class Submarine CAS Calls on General Secretary of MOD and Commander of Iraqi Air Force Commander Southern Command and 2 Corps Visits Khairpur Tamewali Pakistan-U.S. Navy Bilateral Exercise Inspired Union 2024 Pakistan Navy's Humanitarian Mission in Balochistan's Flood-ravaged Villages
Advertisements

Saad Al Abd

The writer is a PhD in Strategic Studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad.

Advertisements

Hilal English

Social Media in Pakistan: Balancing Risks and Governance for National Security

June 2024

Social media, described as a digital public square, has replaced traditional media in influencing global societies, including Pakistan. Platforms like Meta, YouTube, and X play pivotal roles despite concerns over propaganda and security threats posed by groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and ethnic separatists.



Social media is often referred to as a "digital public square," replacing physical societal interactions and heralding a new media revolution. It has surpassed traditional electronic and print media by leaps. In contemporary times, social media shapes the behavior of individuals, societies, and states alike. However, it is not a singular entity but comprises a variety of Social Media Networks (SMNs) operating worldwide. As an estimate, social media impacts 63 percent of the world’s population globally, utilizing various SMNs of both Western and Eastern origin. In Pakistan, the most popular SMNs, such as Meta (including WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram), YouTube, and X (formerly Twitter), are Western. Recently, however, Eastern TikTok has gained significant influence, emerging as Pakistan's second most used SMN.
The content on these SMNs is predominantly user-generated and serves diverse purposes such as leisure, entertainment, and information gathering. However, their popularity and wide reach have also transformed them into platforms for propaganda, disinformation, and hybrid warfare, effectively being utilized by terrorist organizations and foreign intelligence agencies alike. This article delves into the national security challenges faced by Pakistan due to the irresponsible and malicious use of these SMNs, while also proposing recommendations for the Pakistani state to mitigate these threats.
Navigating Pakistan's Social Media Minefield: Threats and Responses
Before delving into each challenge separately, it is crucial to assess the usage of specific SMNs in Pakistan. Obtaining comprehensive and accurate figures on social media usage in Pakistan is challenging due to continuous fluctuations in statistics. However, data from datareportal.com indicates that YouTube leads the Pakistani social media landscape with 71.7 million active users, followed by TikTok with 54.38 million users, WhatsApp (52 million), Facebook (44.5 million users), Snapchat (30.21 million users), Instagram (17.3 million), LinkedIn (12.9 million users), and X, which is used by only 4.5 million Pakistanis. 
However, despite X being used by the fewer number of Pakistanis, its impact on society is crucial because it is utilized by major opinion formulators, including politicians, bureaucrats (both serving and retired), and journalists. Consequently, narratives built on this platform quickly translate into mainstream news channels and other SMNs. Therefore, the challenges arising from social media collectively, and specifically from X, are manifold, encompassing ethnic separatism, religious extremism including sectarian hatred, terrorism, and hybrid warfare. These challenges are elaborated further in the following paragraphs.


YouTube leads the Pakistani social media landscape with 71.7 million active users, followed by TikTok with 54.38 million users, WhatsApp (52 million), Facebook (44.5 million users), Snapchat (30.21 million users), Instagram (17.3 million), LinkedIn (12.9 million users), and X, which is used by only 4.5 million Pakistanis. 


In the Pakistani social media landscape, messaging strategies are often employed by various groups, sometimes without considering the potential instability they could create for the state. X serves as a prominent platform for shaping narratives, utilizing manipulated images, unverified news stories, and allegations to influence opinions. This trend has been observable for years but has intensified recently, often with content aimed at shaping perceptions of the military or affecting civil-military relations. Additionally, information originating from X tends to rapidly propagate onto platforms like YouTube and TikTok, thus significantly getting expanded in its reach.
Social media in Pakistan is also utilized by ethnic separatist groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). While the BLA, recognized as a terrorist organization, carries out violent attacks against the military and civilians in Pakistan, the PTM primarily operates through social media platforms. The BLA strategically uses X, Facebook, and YouTube to disseminate (dis)information, recruit members, and upload videos of attacks on security forces for instilling fear amongst the general population. Instances abound where Baloch students at various universities in Punjab and Islamabad were enticed via social media to join the BLA and subsequently met fatal consequences. The case of Shahdad Baloch and Ehsan Baloch, former students of Pakistan’s prestigious Quaid-i-Azam University, illustrate the process of indoctrination and recruitment through social media.
Similarly, when it comes to religious extremism, a particular far-right party dominates the social media landscape. The group is active across different social media platforms and has weaponized blasphemy with its own interpretations of religious injunctions. On numerous occasions, it has also resorted to mob lynchings. This gained noticeable impetus with the killing of the former Governor of Punjab in 2011, when his own bodyguard, inspired by such teachings, opened fire on him. Since then, the party has consistently framed blasphemy to gain political mileage, primarily leveraging X and Facebook, followed by YouTube. This organization amplifies its message on these platforms to garner mass support, while also engaging in coordinated hashtag campaigns to make its agenda widely trend on X in Pakistan.
Nevertheless, as a consequence of this harmful use of social media, blasphemy allegations have increased along with a significant rise in extrajudicial killings. According to a report by the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, from 1947 to 2014, 59 individuals were killed over blasphemy accusations. However, in contrast, over the last decade alone, more than 30 individuals have been murdered amid similar allegations. This surge in extrajudicial killings also correlates with the rise of the far-right party as a religious pressure group in the country, adversely affecting internal security with incidents of intolerance and terrorism under the guise of religion. Moreover, these extreme actions have the potential to negatively impact Pakistan’s foreign relations with various countries around the world.
Likewise, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to maintain a presence on various social media networks (SMNs). During the early 2020s, its presence had significantly diminished compared to a decade earlier, when its activists freely uploaded graphic content on platforms like X and YouTube. However, following the establishment of the second Taliban government in Afghanistan, TTP members are once again expanding their social media activities. Posts on X are predominantly originating from Afghan social media but are also impacting the Pakistani X space.
Recently, a hybrid war strategy, involving a combination of disinformation, cyber-attacks, and employing both conventional and unconventional warfare tactics, has been increasingly deployed against Pakistan by its Eastern neighbor. The objective behind these actions is to isolate Pakistan within the international community and destabilize its political and economic spheres, thus hindering its overall development. For instance, the EU DisinfoLab exposed an elaborate Indian operation using fake news websites and think tanks to tarnish Pakistan's reputation globally. However, this is just one example of several organized efforts aimed at discrediting Pakistan that have been identified.
Securing Pakistan's Digital Frontier
Pakistan recognized the threat posed by social media nearly a decade ago, when posts related to a horrific but cowardly terrorist attack by the TTP at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar began circulating freely on these platforms. Subsequently, the dangers originating from social media networks (SMNs) to the country’s national security were acknowledged and incorporated into various security policies, including the National Action Plan (NAP) of 2014, the National Internal Security Policies (NISPs) of 2014 and 2018, as well as the National Security Policy (NSP) of 2022.


The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to maintain a presence on various social media networks (SMNs). During the early 2020s, its presence had significantly diminished compared to a decade earlier, when its activists freely uploaded graphic content on platforms like X and YouTube. 


Upon careful examination of these policy documents, it becomes evident that while they outline response mechanisms, they lack a detailed framework for governing social media. For instance, in the NAP and NISPs of 2014 and 2018, the focus on the threat from social media primarily centered on the glorification of terrorism by TTP, with less attention given to its broader use by other religious extremists, ethno-nationalist separatists, anti-state groups, and individuals involved in hybrid warfare. These factors collectively challenge not only the state's ideological foundations but also its security, potentially contributing to instability aligned with the agendas of these actors.
Given the inadequate governance structure of social media, predominantly foreign-origin SMNs operate freely, while bypassing Pakistani state’s interests. More significantly, Pakistan has yet to enact comprehensive social media regulations. Legally, social media remains under the jurisdiction of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) tasked to oversee content. However, the Agency has not been able to secure the social media landscape due to legal gaps and its inadequate capacity.
Moreover, PECA 2016 provides FIA with a limited mandate to prosecute cases of social media misuse, primarily focusing on issues like glorification of terrorism, sexual harassment, child pornography, and digital fraud. Though, the range of threats has now expanded beyond terrorism. Nevertheless, even when individuals face terrorism charges, sufficient evidence isn’t mostly produced in court, resulting in the exoneration of the accused.
Therefore, the recent notification establishing the dedicated National Cyber Crimes Investigation Agency (NCCIA) to address PECA offenses is being seen as a crucial step in the right direction. However, it is important to note that PECA 2016 primarily governs content on social media rather than regulating Social Media Networks (SMNs) themselves. In fact, effective governance of SMNs is essential to safeguard Pakistan's national interests.
In this context, Pakistan can draw lessons from the experiences of other countries in addressing the challenges posed by social media while safeguarding its own national interests. In the United States, Social Media Networks (SMNs) are protected by the First Amendment and are primarily self-regulated under legal provisions. However, most of these SMNs, such as Meta, X, and YouTube, originating from the U.S., are perceived to naturally prioritize and protect U.S. interests.
Conversely, any foreign SMN attempting to establish itself within the American society is required to either sell its shares to local companies or exit the U.S. market. The situation with TikTok is widely known, as it has faced significant pressure from the U.S. government to divest its shares to an approved buyer.
On the other hand, analysis of the Russian digital realm reveals bans on a host of Western origin SMNs including Meta and X to stop promulgation of the Western narrative and value system in Russia. More significantly, Russia also has an elaborate governance structure of the SMNs, where heavy financial penalties are imposed in case of bypassing the law of the land.
In the same context, it is observed that China has a distinct digital landscape with over a billion users, operating its own Internet and Social Media Networks (SMNs), while implementing a blanket ban on Western SMNs to safeguard against Western influence. Additionally, India allows the use of Western SMNs but under a stringent regulatory framework, mandating all SMNs to establish their offices in the country as well as appoint Grievance Redressal Officers.
While Pakistan faces challenges in replicating such social media regulatory frameworks due to technological limitations, it is imperative for the Pakistani state to ensure that SMN providers comply with local regulations, establish offices within Pakistan, and promptly appoint local Complaint and Grievance Redressal Officers.
To conclude, Pakistan urgently requires a comprehensive social media policy to safeguard its digital space. Even the misuse of a single SMN can severely undermine national interests, especially in the case of X. Despite being used by only around five million Pakistani users, the content on X has a profound impact on public perception, which is subsequently amplified by mainstream traditional print and electronic media, as well as other SMNs.
Regarding digital governance, PECA 2016 primarily focuses on user-generated data rather than platform governance, thereby limiting the state’s ability to control both narrative and perception. The recent amendments to PECA, which have been finalized by the Cabinet and include significant changes and additions, are expected to help mitigate the adverse effects of social media on national security to some extent. 


The writer is a PhD in Strategic Studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad.

Article was read 221 times

Saad Al Abd

The writer is a PhD in Strategic Studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad.

Advertisements