The theory that the government is more keen on curtailing the rights of social media activists that criticise state institutions instead of those spreading hate speech or extremist propaganda online has been all but confirmed by a Dawn report that revealed that at least 41 of the 64 banned outfits in Pakistan have an online presence. The main medium used is Facebook with most of the content in Urdu or Roman Urdu, but with additional content in the regional languages as well.

What this tells us is that extremist ideology is openly being disseminated on the internet with little government scrutiny. Why the Interior Ministry is so fixated on social media activists that have criticised the government or the army when banned groups are preaching openly is anyone’s guess. And this is exactly why the government receives so much flak from social media activists – it is looking to silence any form of dissent in the country, but fails to counter the very real and dangerous threat coming in from extremism being propagated online.

While some of these pages may not be officially sanctioned by the proscribed groups in question, extremists have a platform they can essentially use for free advertising, and this discussion does not even feature in the many press conferences held on issues of online blasphemy and criticism of state institutions. Does the government’s conscience go to sleep when extremism comes into play?

It is a fact that groups such as the Islamic State use their tech-savy members to recruit and disseminate their ideology online. Members of the youth that feel alienated among society or with their peers are often drawn in towards the extremist ideology with promises of something greater than the individual and by promising benefits in the hereafter.

The government must prioritise what it really wants to achieve with its social media scrutiny policy. So far it is to establish greater control and limit the freedoms of the average person, or someone who does not necessarily agree with the state-sponsored narrative. But these people are harmless, if not helpful in pointing the myriad flaws of both the armed forces and the state. The real problem goes unchecked. Clamping down on all terrorist organisations or individuals that propagate extremist ideology is the only rational reason for blocking access to sites or pages on the Internet, and this is something the government has neglected to do so far. If monitoring social media is something the government is interested in, it best start somewhere it matters.