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A senior government official Tuesday said the new social media rules were a step forward towards regulating online content and to protect users from abuse, fake news, blasphemous content and hate speech.

The new rules have been conceived to protect the masses from online negativities and were not an attempt to ‘control’ social media as was being projected by some NGOs and activists, the official said.

The ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020’ prepared under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act were meant to regulate the online content, he said.

“The rules are designed to block and remove fake news and propaganda against country’s national security institutions, blasphemous content, hate content and other sensitive material that violates cultural and ethnic norms of the country,” the official said.

“rules are designed to block and remove fake news and propaganda against country’s national security institutions, blasphemous content, hate content”

He said Pakistan has been facing an unprecedented onslaught of hybrid warfare due to regional and extra-regional realignments.

“It is imperative for the State to defend itself against this invasion of chaotic cyber activity and stop an unhealthy ingress impacting social fiber of the society,” the official said.

He said the incumbent government has shown the will to enact laws and implement those for better management of the internet environment. He regretted that some internet watchdogs, NGOs and activists were trying to create controversy out of the government’s long-awaited step in the right direction.

The government, he said followed due process in the formation of new regulations.

“Tech companies, ISPs, digital watchdogs, legal fraternity and general public were engaged for input and the document was compiled in conformity with the Article 19 of the Constitution,” he asserted.

social media platforms were being exploited by various quarters in Pakistan and abroad to spread fake and false narratives; creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, chaos

The official said the purpose of new rules was to ensure effective implementation of local laws through quick removal of unlawful, defamatory, obscene and pornographic content from social media platforms. These rules, he said, were framed in compliance with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act that was passed by Parliament in 2016.

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The official said social media platforms were being exploited by various quarters in Pakistan and abroad to spread fake and false narratives; creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, chaos to adversely impact the social, cultural and religious norms of the society.

“Every State adopts and enacts a set of laws that confirm to its ideology, domains of national security and the foreign policy objectives,” he maintained.

“Elimination of adverse impact of fake, false, immoral, unethical, anti-religious rumors is an obligation for any State to ensure a chaos-free society. This national obligation has been protected and furthered by the newly enacted rules,” he said.

“Pakistan’s digital economy is estimated to increase to the tune of $ 5.5 billion which in some domains is growing at 100% annual rate. The rules have virtually no impact on e-commerce”

Dismissing fears expressed by local NGOs and activists that global tech companies may be forced to shut down their operations in Pakistan, the official said the huge amount of business that these tech giants generate in Pakistan will never be compromised by laws that do not impact their revenue streams in essence.

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“Pakistan’s digital economy is estimated to increase to the tune of $ 5.5 billion which in some domains is growing at 100% annual rate. The rules have virtually no impact on e-commerce,” he said.

Under the new rules notified by the government, social media companies are bound to block access to unlawful online content within 24 hours — or in emergency cases, within six hours — after being reported by a government authority.

“If a social media company or internet service provider fails to abide by the rules, the authority may issue directions for blocking of the entire online system or any services provided by such service providers or social media company,” reads the 13-page document.

companies will be bound to establish one or more database servers in Pakistan within 18 months

Under the rules, the social media companies and internet service providers with more than half a million users in Pakistan were also required to register with the authority, establish a permanent office in Islamabad, and appoint a focal person based in the country within nine months and within three months, respectively, of coming into force of these rules.

The rules suggest that the companies will be bound to establish one or more database servers in Pakistan within 18 months of coming into force of these rules, to store data and online content, but it was subject to the promulgation of data protection law.

The rules allow any individual, government department, including law enforcement agencies, to file a complaint against any unlawful online content with reasons for its removal or blocking access on digital platforms.