Correlation Between Free Speech and National Security

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The right to freely express oneself is a fundamental component of any democracy. Free speech enables exchange of ideas, encourages healthy discussion, and holds those in authority accountable. Pakistan’s commitment to freedom of expression thrives in tandem to the requirement of national security. Pakistan faces two major challenges: overseas disinformation efforts and inland social media misuse through propaganda campaigns against the state institutions. Both efforts grossly endanger national security and stability. The state recognizes the importance of open dialogue for a healthy democracy, while ensuring a safe and stable environment for the citizens. Striking a balance between free speech and national security, however, remains to be a continuous process, one which strengthens Pakistan’s position as a nation which values both progress and security. Article 19 of Pakistan’s Constitution provides the right to free speech, subject to reasonable limits “in the interest of the security of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court.”

One of Pakistan’s most serious external security concerns is from its arch-rival, India. An EU-based, Non-Governmental Organization DisInfo Lab unveiled a matrix of Indian disinformation campaign, in 2019 and 2020 respectively, in which over 750 fake media outlets and 550 domains across 65 countries, were operating in social and mainstream media, to lobby in international community against Pakistan. The campaigns were timed with strategic precision, like coinciding with major international events akin to Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) meetings on Pakistan. Indian disinformation operations via cyber-meddling did not stop after EU Disinfo Lab’s groundbreaking revelations, it continues till date unabated. Disinformation operations frequently abuse religious sentiments, propagate false information about Pakistan’s political scene attempting to destabilize the country.

Such defamation campaigns reap terrible consequences. A 2021 report by the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) in Pakistan highlights a trend of Indian media amplifying unsubstantiated claims of human rights violations in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan region.  Another example of India’s reckless disregard for regional stability occurred during the fall of Panjshir in Afghanistan. As events unfolded, Indian media, emboldened by Prime Minister Modi’s ambition to isolate Pakistan, resorted to blatant fabrication. Fake footage from video games and photos of Pakistani actors in military attire were presented as “evidence” of Pakistani involvement, jeopardizing Afghanistan’s already volatile situation and further simmering bilateral as well as regional tensions.

Beyond external dangers, Pakistan also needs to manage its domestic social media landscape. The fast rise of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have empowered citizens, opening up new channels for public discourse and political participation. It has also created room for the spread of misinformation, which is one of the most critical challenges faced by Pakistan these days. A 2023 survey by Inter Media Support (IMS), a respected international organization, found that roughly 75% of respondents in Pakistan encountered misinformation at least once a week.

Also Read: Unmasking Disinformation: India’s Enduring Propaganda Against Pakistan

A 2021 report by the Pew Research Center, a highly regarded American research institution, found that 54% of Pakistanis believe that news they saw online was often inaccurate. This data suggested that misinformation was eroding public trust in the information sources. Concurrently, some political dissidents and nefarious elements seem to accrue advantage out of this newfound freedom. In the guise of political turbulence in 2022, Pakistan experienced a flood of disinformation tactics, aimed at Governmental institutions and politicians. Those efforts frequently used falsified tales, frivolous narrative, and distorted graphics to incite strife and weaken public trust in the Government and state institutions. This climate of misinformation can stymie democratic processes besides fostering a breeding ground for violence. For example, unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories circulated online during the 2024 Elections, created a tense political environment while raising concerns about the possibility of violence.

Finding the correct balance between freedom of expression and national security is not an easy task. It demands a multifaceted strategy that addresses both external and internal risks.
On the international front, Pakistan must collaborate with regional and global partners to create mechanisms for detecting and fighting disinformation efforts. This can include joint efforts to hunt down the source of fake news, create fact-checking projects, and raise public awareness about the consequences of disinformation.

Pakistan faces a significant challenge in fostering a responsible online environment. Disinformation, hate speech, and content inciting violence, threaten national security as well as public discourse. While the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing tackles such issues through social media monitoring and investigations, concerns exist about the focus on content removal over media literacy efforts. To address such anomalies, Pakistan needs a multi-pronged approach. Strengthening existing cybercrime and hate speech legislation is highly essential, but it is vital to ensure that these laws do not stifle legitimate dissent. Pakistan’s Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, criminalizing content harmful to national security, maintains a careful balance between security and free expression.

Looking beyond domestic efforts, Pakistan’s leadership in the 2023 UN Resolution on “Countering Disinformation”, is a welcoming development. International cooperation is essential to tackle a global problem. This resolution emphasizes the need for discipline within social media landscapes while acknowledging the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Education efforts should teach citizens how to critically analyze information online, detect potential biases, and check source reliability before sharing content. Media literacy programs can help citizens discriminate between fact and fiction, comprehend the strategies used by disinformation campaigns, and become responsible consumers of online information.
The role of social media sites is also important. These platforms must create and execute effective fact-checking methods, remove obviously incorrect content, and hold users accountable for disseminating disinformation. The Government should also invest in media literacy projects and work with civil society organizations to combat disinformation operations.

In conclusion, establishing a balance between freedom of expression and national security requires a collaborative effort from the Government, social media platforms, civil society organizations, and the general public. Pakistan can build a stronger and more secure digital world by improving media literacy, establishing regulatory frameworks with clear definitions and effective oversight, and encouraging responsible online activity. This will allow for open discussions while maintaining a strong national security stance.

The opinions shared in this article reflect the author’s personal views and do not necessarily align with the institution’s official stance.

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