Regulating Social Media By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Regulating Social Media
By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

Invention of the internet, no doubt, is the most defining moment in our entire history and the social media tools including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp, have become powerful instruments to play a prominent role in the societal change; negative and positive both. This is on record that that the digital technology and social media had facilitated the presidential election campaign of Obama while it also had a significant impact during the Arab Spring. Today, all organizations including traditional media are utilizing the internet and Social Media. All national and international newspapers are available in the form of e-papers. Television channels are offering live streaming and mobile apps on their respective websites to catch more viewership.

Being active on social media is considered a social status for everyone, either belonging to ruling class, celebrity, or common citizen. On the other hand, the widespread use of social media is also rising a number of serious concerns, specially in developing countries like Pakistan, about the authentication of information. Just search a renowned personality or celebrity on Facebook or Twitter, so many results will appear that it will be hard to identify which one is real one. The most worrisome situation occurs when a baseless statement attributed to such fake accounts gets attention of traditional media. The complaints about character assassination of political rivals by paid social media cells are on rise. Allegedly, a political party is involved in promoting misuse of Social Media in Pakistan. Fake Twitter followers and spam accounts seem to be a growing problem, which are being used to make trending topics more popular than they actually are. Moreover, fake photos and video clips posted on the social media platforms on the occasion of any natural disaster or accident quickly go viral. The situation in which horrific murders of model Qandeel Baloch and Mashal Khan, rise of blasphemous content and unjustified propaganda against the armed forces and judiciary occurs, is really alarming for all of those who want to utilize Social Media positively.

Fulfilling the personal agenda, to confuse the public about religious teachings, to demoralize the security institutions and judiciary, and  finally to create anarchist society are some of the motives behind all such moves, according to my humble views. We must agree that to encourage positive use of Social Media, the presence of fake accounts must be discouraged. I just recalled that once the PTCL telephone users had to face dozens of wrong number calls on daily basis. The introduction of Caller Line Identity (CLI) facility plays a pivotal role against the wrong number calls. I believe such identification mechanism is needed for social media as well.

Whatever a person says or writes has always very much importance and most particularly, when he knows that he is on right then why he needs to use fake id to convey his message on social media? Saying truth is not always easy in a society but this is also true that only brave and strong character people brings betterment in the society. Defamation by maliciously spreading false and fabricated information is considered anti-social activity throughout the world.  Various countries encourage the websites to mention the contact details. Many anonymous websites are blocked in the UAE while online activities, which target another state, are described as “electronic warfare”. Parents are advised to keep an eye on their children to inform them the potential risks of misusing social media.

The situation in our beloved county is quite sensitive where every second anonymous website or social media account is actively involved in spreading one-sided propaganda and conspiracy theories while ideological conflicts among different countries are being intensified on the digital front of Pakistan. Most serious issue is the usage of immoral language against opponents. In this critical situation, the government must take webmasters of leading news portals and bloggers on board for mentioning contact details, posting news after proper verification,  and defining a mechanism of correcting or deleting posts, in case of justified complaint. The immoral comments must not be posted at any cost. I think, strengthening the role of editor for news websites is also in the best interest of bloggers for winning trust of their readership by providing authentic news content.

Similarly, all those anonymous foreign news blogs which are operating from abroad but targeting Pakistani internet users must be blocked unless they ensure to provide contact details and respect our values.  A nationwide awareness campaign on massive scale is also need of time to highlight the importance of Social Media for the betterment according to different religious teachings. An internet user must understand that he is accountable to God for all his deeds while using the internet and further sharing of fake information is in fact an act of sin, whether people like to admit that or not.

Now when the biometric verification of all mobile phone SIMs has been completed throughout the country, there is a need to define a mechanism where an internet users will be able to use the social media after registering his mobile number. I myself has observed this in different developed countries, such as at the London Airport, where a local mobile phone number is required to provide for enjoying free Wi-Fi. The Facebook and Twitter administration can also be approached on governmental level for using mobile phone numbers for account registrations and log-ins but due to non-presence of concerned offices in Pakistan, various legal complexities can also be faced.

In this situation, I believe the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) should come forward to direct all the internet service providers to ensure that whenever someone tries to use the internet, a verification code will be provided to his mobile phone. Two-step authentication mechanism offered by Google for Gmail and other services can be studied in this regard. The provision of biometric verified mobile number for using the social media will ensure the positive use as the internet user will have fear of being caught in case of abuse. This will also preventing various social evil activities related to terrorism and online fraud.

The Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar deserves all the appreciation for his good efforts to ensure positive use of social media usage. While the current government is committed to regulate the social media, this is also national responsibility of all segments of society for its successful implementation.

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The writer is a member of National Assembly and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council. Twitter: @RVankwani

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