In the wake of a strong Supreme Court verdict on the Faizabad dharna, one would have expected governmental initiatives to curb religious extremism to be met with general praise. After all; the government was berated for allowing these groups to fester unchecked and the apex court had ordered the state and its law enforcement agencies to be more vigilant and proactive. Moreover, the civil society and the vast majority of the population had been asking for groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to be dismantled for years now, only for our demands to fall on deaf ears.

However, as the Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday announced that the government is gearing up to launch a crackdown against extremist narratives on social media in the next few weeks, the mood surrounding the statement was one of caution and dread. For while the focus of this new crackdown was ostensibly extremist narratives, this government’s past record of curbing media freedoms makes any regulation of social media platforms a dangerous proposition.

The government can still prove its detractors wrong and exclusively go after religious fundamentalists and banned groups who use social media to spread their message of intolerance, violence and sectarianism. It can shut down their communication channels and ensure that their armies on online trolls – who threaten individuals and inundate civil debates with blind hate – are made inoperative. It is sincerely hoped that the government sticks to the narrow definition of “religious extremists” and carries out the task diligently, and if it does it will certainly have the gratitude of the nation.

Yet, it is the multitude of loose terms used by Information Minister which cause alarm. Along with extremism the Information Minister has said the crackdown will prosecute those who commit “hate speech” and those who “break the law”. One only has to look at how civil society protesters are being treated by this government to understand how broadly these terms are defined. Criticism of the government could land you in jail for “defaming institutions” or “inciting violence”, while unwanted protests are often dubbed ‘disturbance of public peace”. The abuse of the law to clamp down on criticism is a common practice on the street – there is no reason to think this would be different on social media.

In fact it has the potential to be all the more problematic. Years of work behind legitimate online news services could be deleted with a press of a button – and with Fawad Chaudhry relishing the idea of “controlling” this new medium in every speech that he makes, this fear could become a reality soon.