The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has issued notification of Social Media Rules 2021 under which social media institutions have been directed to set up offices in Pakistan as soon as possible. Regarding the laws, Federal Minister for IT Aminul Haq said that under the amended rules, Pakistani consumers would have full freedom of expression under Article 19.

He said the rules would play an important role in liaising between Pakistani users and social media organizations, adding that social media companies must abide by Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.

The new rules include the following:

  • Live streaming of extremism, terrorism, hate speech, pornography and violent content will be banned.
  • Social media organizations will be obliged to remove content against the dignity and security of Pakistan.
  • Advertising immoral and obscene material will also be a felony.
  • Social media organizations and service providers will develop community guidelines.
  • Guidelines will inform users about uploading content.
  • Negative content related to any person will not be uploaded.
  • Content related to the privacy of others will also be banned.
  • Contrary to Pakistan’s cultural and moral trends will be banned.
  • Materials related to the destruction of children’s mental and physical development and morals will be banned.
  • All social media organizations including YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Google Plus will be bound by the law.
  • Following the issuance of the notification, it will be necessary to set up offices in Pakistan on social media as soon as possible.
  • Social media companies will appoint their own authorized officer for Pakistan.

It should be noted that at the end of last month, the federal cabinet had approved amendments to the controversial digital media laws introduced last year.

The social media rules adopted in November 2020 faced strong opposition from representatives of digital rights, Internet service providers of Pakistan, and the Asia Internet Coalition.

Technology companies have also threatened to shut down their services in Pakistan if the rules are not amended, as it will be difficult for them to continue working under the rules and regulations.

The rules were also challenged in the Islamabad High Court. During a hearing on the petition, the Attorney General assured the Islamabad High Court that the government was ready to review the rules.

In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan formed an inter-ministerial committee to review controversial social media laws. The committee drafted the rules by August and they were approved by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation on September 23.

However, Internet companies have also criticized the amended law, saying no changes have been made to the more troubling provisions.

Jeff Penn, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, told Dawn that the Asia Internet Coalition and its member companies are frustrated with the proposed revisions and rules.

He said that despite repeated feedback from the industry for several months, the draft rules still contain a number of troubling provisions.

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