Social Media Still Inaccessible In Pakistan Despite PTA Lifting Internet Restrictions

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Pakistan’s regulatory authority, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), announced the restoration of mobile broadband services on May 13, but social media platforms remained inaccessible on Saturday, according to user reports and Reuters. The suspension of mobile broadband and restricted access to social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, was put in place on May 9 on the interior ministry’s instructions following violent protests triggered by the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. The decision was made after footage of a mob clashing with police in Karachi, attacking and entering the army’s head office, General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, and vandalizing the official residence of a high-ranking military officer in Lahore was widely circulated on social media. 

Late on May 12, the PTA announced that services would be restored in a staggered manner, and Reuters reported that the authority was “removing restrictions on access to social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.” However, internet connectivity watchdog Downdetector showed a surge in outage reports since early on May 13, the fourth day of restrictions while accessing the platforms. Downdetector graphs for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube indicated that the surge in outages was noticeable from 8 a.m. onwards on May 13. 

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The outage reports concentrated in major cities of Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar, according to maps on the website for the same platforms. Netizens used Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to take to Twitter and voice their concerns, as has been the case for the past four days. Some of the trending hashtags based in the Netherlands were related to Pakistani matters, according to Usama Khilji, Director of internet advocacy firm Bolo Bhi. Khilji added that Twitter and YouTube were still blocked in Pakistan even as mobile internet access was restored. 

The access blockage has been condemned by The Nest I/O Founder Jehan Ara, who emphasized that access to information was a basic human right. She questioned how a country that claims to be a democracy could block access to social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Senior anchorperson Maria Memon highlighted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also using a VPN to tweet since the social media platform could not be accessed without it. 

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