The Pakistani public deplores the PTA’s decision to block Wikipedia
In the past, Pakistan has restricted websites and other platforms due to sacrilegious content. From 2012 to 2016, YouTube was restricted in the country for “offensive” videos. The popular video-sharing app TikTok was banned several times in recent years for “indecent” and “immoral” material. Now, recently, the general public has lamented Pakistan’s telecoms regulator (PTA)’s decision to block Wikipedia services, arguing that the move could limit access to information.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Feb. 1 “humiliated” Wikipedia in the country for 48 hours for failing to remove “sacrilegious content” and threatened to completely block the website if the online encyclopedia did not comply with guidelines.
The Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects will no longer be accessible to users in Pakistan from February 5. The regulator stated that the website had not responded to his inquiries and had not removed the offensive content. On social media, Pakistanis criticized the ban that has prevented more than 230 million people from viewing more than 6 million articles. In this right, a digital rights activist said:
There should be no legal way to block entire platforms like Wikipedia. This violates Pakistanis’ right to information and education, is disproportionate and perpetuates a ridiculous cycle of censorship.
In the absence of the PTA chairman, he also questioned the clarity of the “sacrilegious content” and the legal mandate to act.
Lawyer Taimur Malik urged the regulator and the government to immediately investigate the decision. The decision, according to Malik, was “regressive and destructive to Pakistan’s global image” and demonstrated “a lack of understanding of how crowdsourced/edited internet information platforms work”. Wikipedia is a free, crowdsourced encyclopedia, meaning anyone can create and edit articles.
In an interesting parallel, Aatif Awan, the founder of a Pakistan-focused venture fund, compared the banning of the entire Wikipedia for sacrilegious content in the Information Age to the closure of all libraries and bookstores for sacrilegious books in the pre-Internet era.
Wikimedia encourages restoring access.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, stated that the restriction will deny Pakistanis access to “the greatest repository of free knowledge”. It is claimed that the English Wikipedia gets more than 50 million page views per month. The online platform defended its editorial policy, stating, “Wikipedia is produced by approximately 300,000 volunteer editors” who have developed “strict editorial criteria that require strict citations and references to verifiable sources of information.” The foundation explained that it “does not control what content is included on Wikipedia” and that the information is taken from secondary sources. The platform requested the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to restore access to Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in the country.
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