January 8, 2024
A nationwide disruption of social media platforms was reported on Sunday night as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) held a virtual fundraising telethon ahead of the February 8 general elections. According to Netblocks, an independent global internet monitor, access to multiple major social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, was blocked.
⚠️ Confirmed: Live metrics show a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across #Pakistan, including X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube; the incident comes as persecuted former PM Imran Khan's party, PTI, launches its election fundraising telethon pic.twitter.com/QIBGcxGty3
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) January 7, 2024
The U.K.-based watchdog noted that this was consistent with “previous social media filtering events which have all been imposed during opposition party rallies or speeches by opposition leader Imran Khan”.
The PTI, on Sunday, announced that it would launch its manifesto and a virtual fundraiser for elections at 9:00 pm. However, around 6:00 pm, users started complaining about internet services being slow and not being able to access social media platforms. After online disruptions, PTI urged its supporters to join the fundraising campaign using VPN.
Social media users and activists took to X to condemn the internet disruptions in the country, terming them a violation of Pakistan’s constitution.
#InternetShutDown is illegal & unconstitutional. @PTAofficialpk & @MoitOfficial @umarsaif need to stop shutting down social media & internet which violates constitutional rights of all Pakistanis; is counterproductive; bad for the economy; & easily circumventable. pic.twitter.com/IuA7xwns3N
— Usama Khilji (@UsamaKhilji) January 7, 2024
Speaking separately to Voicepk, digital rights activist Usama Khilji further dilated upon the situation and said that the imposition of a blanket ban like this was a violation of democracy and the constitution.
“Our constitution gives us the right to freedom of access to information, the right to education and right to livelihood- all of which depends on digital access,” he said. “It is also useless to ban sites like this because ultimately people use proxy or VPN in order to access the banned sites. And what is the point of this ban? Are political parties not allowed to campaign?”
Khilji added that there was no transparency either as to who was carrying out this ban—was it the Ministry of Information Technology or the PTA?—it remained unclear.
The PTI denounced the caretaker government for suspending social media platforms and targeting its virtual events.
Absolutely shameful! Caretaker IT Minister should resign for this continuing damage to Pakistanis https://t.co/W9pyXzRr6A
— PTI (@PTIofficial) January 7, 2024
— Sayed Z Bukhari (@sayedzbukhari) January 7, 2024
This is not the first time authorities have resorted to such tactics. In a similar incident last month, internet services were disrupted during a PTI virtual power show.
In an interview to AFP, Netblocks Director Alp Toker said, “Such nation-scale social media targeting political activities is almost unprecedented at this scale— Venezuela is one other country that has used similar measures to limit opposition speeches and rallies.”
In July last year, Surfshark, a virtual private network company headquartered in Lithuania, ranked Pakistan third in the world over internet restrictions in the first half of 2023.