The federal government’s newly formulated rules regarding social media are problematic, redundant and essentially an exercise in futility. The new set of rules dictate – among other things – that social media platforms must establish offices within Pakistan, appoint country representatives, and comply to any request by the government to take down content when necessary. The ruling party has given platforms three months to do all of this, but whether they will comply is questionable, considering many have previously cited digital data and privacy laws in Pakistan as the biggest stumbling block between greater cooperation with the state.

To add to the mess, the government’s definition of extremism within this new policy is both ill-thought and too broad-based to be considered a real benchmark of what the term really means.

The law enforcement agencies are already monitoring social media, and institutions such as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are fully capable of protecting online users from harm on the internet. Considering that laws like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act already cover issues of objectionable content, slander, cyber-harassment and others, one can only wonder why the government thought it necessary to spend time on drafting a new set of rules when the older ones are pretty extensive. No one wants an ungovernable digital environment, there is absolutely no doubt that individuals and their reputations must be protected online, but so far, the government has not been able to explain where previous regulations went wrong and why this one is absolutely necessary.

If there are some within the government that believe that this policy might lead to clamping down on any antagonism against the regime’s performance in recent times, they might have another thing coming. Incompetence and inefficient service delivery on part of the government will always be called out, regardless of how hard anyone tries to stifle voices of discontent. There is no law in the world that can prevent individuals from cribbing about the prices of food, electricity and fuel. Instead of embarrassing itself by looking to counter views against policy measures, the ruling party should look to provide relief to people that face these problems. Sticking our head in the sand and pretending there isn’t any criticism is of no help to anyone.