Combatting disinformation in Pakistan

The unchecked dissemination of false information and hate speech on social media platforms poses a significant threat to Pakistan's stability and security

A government-operated agency in India will now monitor and conduct fact-checks on social media regarding government-related topics. The Ministry of Electronics and IT announced the amendments to the IT Rules 2021 in a gazette notification dated 21 March 2024.

Other organizations that provide services to over 5 million users in India, including technology companies, will be obligated to "make reasonable efforts" to prevent the display, storage, transmission, or other dissemination of information that misleads or deceives users regarding government affairs. In 2019, the fact-checking branch of the Press Information Bureau was established by the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcast to debunk false information about government affairs. 

To protect their national interests, many European countries and organizations, including Germany, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India, Turkey, and Malaysia, have passed legislation to combat disinformation, hate speech, and fake news. Aside from legislation, there are several practical solutions and tactics used to limit the impact of disinformation. These include fact-checking activities and complete media literacy programs. These strategies will improve societal resilience, making it easier to recognize and resolve disinformation issues. Given the effectiveness of these measures, Pakistan should follow the successful techniques used by leading nations to combat the unfettered spread of damaging media content.  

The lenient social media regulations in Pakistan have allowed subversive groups and anti-state factions to openly propagate the adversary's objectives, as well as anti-Pakistan sentiments. Given hybrid warfare methods and the need to protect national security and economic stability, Pakistan should introduce network enforcement legislation similar to those implemented by other countries around the world. 

In comparison, Pakistan's unique demographic landscape, which includes a growing population and a significant increase in internet usage, highlights the need for strong regulatory measures. The rapid proliferation of social media and the Internet in Pakistan is increasing the Pakistani people's vulnerability to disinformation spread by foreign organizations. In November 2023, PTA reported 126 million mobile broadband customers and 129 million broadband internet users, comprising 54% of the population. In Pakistan, where fact-checking training and practice are few and media literacy is low, the growth of social media platforms poses an inherent threat to counter disinformation efforts. 

Pakistan confronts a multitude of security concerns, such as an escalating terrorism menace originating from terrorist groups and an antagonistic opponent. These issues present a significant opportunity for the manipulation of information, which has the potential to worsen the internal instability of the country and its exterior relations. Hence, the implementation of legislative measures to address disinformation is a pressing concern. Neglecting to embrace this strategy is likely to lead to the ongoing spread of disinformation, hate speech, and false news. This poses a substantial threat to Pakistan, both within its borders and on the global stage. 

Pakistan has been the subject of disinformation campaigns. One significant instance was the release of DisInfo Lab's study, which exposed a 15-year disinformation network established by India to sway international and civil society opinions against Pakistan. Furthermore, an analysis of Twitter trends found that around 61% of hashtags like "#CivilWarinPak" were established in India. This hashtag was used in 84,000 tweets, retweets, and responses by bogus Twitter accounts based in India.  

For nearly fifteen years, a multitude of domains and news channels, predominantly originating from India, exerted a systematic influence on international opinion toward Pakistan. These influential sources of information and deception, which were not questioned by senior officials in the United States and Europe, played a vital role in a pro India organization's campaign against Pakistan. 

The unchecked dissemination of false information and hate speech on social media platforms poses a significant threat to Pakistan's stability and security. These platforms have the potential to be easily weaponized to spread propaganda, incite violence, and sow conflict, undermining efforts to promote peace and stability. 

According to the latest research conducted by CAD, a significant majority of university students, specifically 63%, are exposed to disinformation on the Internet regularly. In addition, a majority of 62% of students hold the belief that disinformation poses a significant risk to democracy and electoral processes. 

To alleviate challenges and concerns resulting from disinformation, the state must protect its interests while countering disinformation. To combat the spread of misinformation and propaganda, Pakistan's government must impose strict social media laws.  

The primary purpose of applying these guidelines is to mitigate the negative impacts of misinformation on national unity, which is a key component of Pakistan's National Security Policy 2022-26. To combat the growing issue of misinformation and disinformation in Pakistan as a result of increased social media use, regulatory changes, and effective tactics should be implemented. 

It is crucial, among other practical steps, to promote extensive transmission of media literacy teaching, which includes the ability to check information and spot false news. Furthermore, journalists must receive fact-checking training from either the state or their company. 

Pakistan places great priority on maintaining political and economic stability, highlighting the crucial need to implement network enforcement laws to reduce the detrimental effects of disinformation operations. By upholding the integrity of public discourse and fostering a conducive atmosphere for economic advancement, Pakistan possesses the potential to strengthen its ability to withstand external influences, promote sustainable growth, and improve the welfare of its population. 

The writer is a young research scholar committed to advancing the cause of gender equality and women’s empower-ment on the global stage. She can be reached at: maria mansab420

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt