Absurd demands from would-be autocrats

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The news that the government of Pakistan plans to demand that social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc. set up offices – including setting up servers – inside Pakistan as a condition of being allowed to operate in the country is so blatantly absurd that we were hoping we would not have had to address it at all. Unfortunately, given the kind of small-minded policymaking that is currently taking place in Islamabad, perhaps we should not be surprised that the idea was being considered.

Let us break down precisely why this is absurd. At the moment, Facebook and Google both have market capitalisations that exceed the total size of the entire Pakistani economy. We are not in a position to dictate terms to these companies at all. While Pakistan may account for a substantial number of users for their websites, the country accounts for an insignificant proportion of both revenue and profits. In other words, we need them way more than they need us.

Secondly, in what universe is it a good idea to try to get a company to do more business in your country by threatening to kick them out if they fail to comply with new, capriciously imposed legal requirements that would dramatically increase their cost of doing business in the country and reduce its desirability? What, precisely, does the government think it will achieve by acting like a petulant child?

And lastly, why does the government believe that the additional demand that they be allowed to dictate what type of content is available on what are fundamentally (user-generated) content companies is likely to go well? Yes, these companies occasionally bend their rules for larger, more important economies, but we are neither of those things. Why does the government of Pakistan insist on embarrassing its citizens with these childish demands that reflect neither an intelligent understanding of how the world works, nor the emotional maturity of dealing with the country’s economic reality?

Of course, the fact that the government wants to impose these conditions as a means of seeking to control what the citizens of Pakistan say or think is the most offensive of all aspects of this preposterous proposal. The only relief is that the government will likely be laughed out of the offices of the largest, most powerful companies in the world when they go to present these so-called “demands”.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What’s more absurd in this demand is that its purpose is not to curb the criticism against the Govt. That will continue to go on on both social and mainstream media where anyone can just thrash the Govt and their performance. This kind of liberty is actually missing even in many developed countries. We are far ahead as far as freedom of press is concerned.

    However the main motive of this move has more to with ‘Project Riyasat e Madina’ where you just can’t allow blasphemy or anything against Islam. IK’s only priority as the renewed devoted Muslim is to work towards making Pakistan THE Madina riyasat just like it was in 7th Century. We are well on our way!

    Aap ne bus ghabrana nai hay, kiunkay sakoon sirf Qabar main hay!!

  2. They are following what india did. India insisted that tech companies keep data in Indian datacenters. Pakistanis may hate india but they follow whatever india does. Even the ban on bitcoin was copied from the indian central bank’s playbook.

    @Shahid we are far behind in terms of freedom of expression. You can freely lampoon politicians and religious figures in western countries. You can’t do that in Pakistan. Our laws are barbaric in nature.

    • @wanker: We are indeed behind West on that. But when compared to countries in Asia and Africa, we are far far ahead in freedom of expression. You can go through numerous articles mocking all politicians here, especially those in sitting Govt. That kind of liberty is missing in all of East – especially countries like China, India, Russia, all of Middle East, Gulf and Arab Nations. The press we have cries a lot more in Media on freedom of expression due to simple fact that they can. This is unthinkable if you happen to be in UAE, Iran, Egypt, and even in India now which is ironically hailed in West as the biggest democracy of the world. We are far more notorious than what actually is the situation on ground.

  3. If the developed world does it then its fine? EU has just passed a law that requires local taxation and presence of these tax giants. Moreover they are also making it mandatory that data of EU citizen does not leave EU. FB, Twitter, YT etc are making a lot of money from Pakistan. They should have local presence and local taxation as well.

    This is not an issue of freedom of expression either. A lot of countries like Singapore, New Zealand, India etc are working to curb the influence of these companies. Extremists have been given a global platform, thanks to FB and Twitter etc, to spread their hateful ideologies. FB and Twitter are doing next to nothing to curb this.

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