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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Facebook and Pakistan


ions, protest demonstrations, book readings, parties, concerts, charity drives, business meetings, etc., and reminders are given to users on the home page once an RSVP is given.
One such event, ‘Draw Muhammad Day’, had been made by a Facebook user in Seattle in reaction to the censorship of an episode of the popular American animated satirical comedy ‘South Park’ that had a graphic representation of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and in support of the freedom of expression. However, this was insensitive to millions of Muslim users of Facebook.
Muslims reacted by ‘reporting abuse’ for offence on the event and page; however, the Facebook administration has announced that the event and page do not violate Facebook’s privacy statement and terms of use; hence, they cannot be deleted. Another point to be noted here is that the Facebook event has been made by a private Facebook user, and is not endorsed by the Facebook administration. The event can only be seen if searched for or if one is invited to it.
However, the question that arises here is whether the blockage of Facebook by official Pakistani authorities is useful and effective.
The chances of a Pakistani participating in this event are very slim. Rather, Pakistanis were one of the most active in creating and spreading awareness about, and making groups and events to counter this event considered blasphemous by Muslims.
One such event declared May 20 as ‘Respect Muhammad Day’ and encouraged users to share and talk about the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Some other groups were also made calling for the deletion of ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ event and page. Another movement titled ‘Boycott Facebook on May 20′ was initiated that encouraged users not to use Facebook on May 20 in protest of the ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ event.
This was a viable option as users could boycott the page upon their own discretion.
This is a time when Muslims should exhibit strong faith and be unmoved by any attacks on their religion; and take peaceful and constructive steps to avert such offensive outbursts. The state blocking the site makes it seem like it is fearful of its citizens losing faith and averting to blasphemy.
Furthermore, the ban, in effect, alienates the Pakistani people from Facebook users all over the world. These people could have been made aware of the sensitivity of such an event rather than being cut off!
It is also pertinent to explore the effects the Facebook ban has had on Pakistanis. Facebook is a much cheaper and quicker medium for mass communication and interaction purposes.
Its interactive features make it all the more useful for people to meet others with similar interests, and makes networking for all purposes very convenient. Many developmental projects have their grounding in Facebook where social activism and community service, as well as awareness programmes are made popular.
It is a place for many Pakistanis, especially the younger lot, to meet and discuss ideas, and mobilize resources for different causes. Examples of youth organizations with a mass purposeful presence on Facebook include Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP), Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA), Thali, Zimmedar Shehri, among others.
There are many religious groups as well where religion is actively discussed, and information is exchanged. Many businesses use Facebook to appeal to prospective customers and have pages that have become alternatives to more costly websites.
With a plethora of crises mounting in intensity and causing discontent in society, Facebook is a world of its own that acts like a welcome distraction as well as hope for the internet-using Pakistani.
However, the blockage of Facebook is only increasing this discontent and discomfort amongst the public, acting as an infringement of personal freedoms. Hence, these factors must be considered and explored by the Pakistani authorities before such a ban with wide repercussions is imposed. Moreover, the state should concentrate on solving more pressing issues that Pakistanis are facing; such as loadshedding, inflation, unemployment, illiteracy and lack of proper healthcare facilities.

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