Pakistan’s government imposed a social media blackout as a measure to curb protests following the arrest of the country’s former prime minister, Imran Khan. The interior ministry’s decision resulted in the suspension of access to various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, along with mobile data coverage. The blackout was initiated moments after Khan’s detention on Tuesday, intending to stifle the support for his political party.
However, the government’s attempt to limit social media access has backfired and fuelled momentum for Khan’s party. Supporters quickly found workarounds, leaving social media awash with calls for protest and clips of thousands of demonstrators clashing with police. According to Shahzad Ahmad, director of digital rights organization Bytes for All, the move was a “crass miscalculation” by the authorities, which will ultimately work against them.
Despite the Supreme Court’s declaration of Khan’s arrest as invalid, political turmoil has continued, and the internet restrictions remain in place. The blackout has cost Pakistan as much as $53 million a day, with mobile data coverage powering economic transactions, including credit and debit card point-of-sale terminals, according to global internet monitor NetBlocks.
Moreover, the shaky coalition government now faces the prospect of an electorate galvanized by simultaneous political and economic crises ahead of elections due no later than October. The blackout has ignited significant public outrage and calls for an end to government interference with freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly.
In summary, the government-imposed social media blackout intended to control protests following the arrest of Imran Khan has sparked a backlash, with supporters finding ways to work around the restrictions. The move has cost the country millions of dollars daily, affecting economic transactions and other vital services. Additionally, the political turmoil caused by the arrest and subsequent protests has put the shaky coalition government in a precarious position, facing an agitated electorate ahead of the forthcoming elections.