The federal government, on November 18, issued directives to ban the dissemination of hate material over the social media. This follows the violent incident in Rawalpindi on Ashura Day, when nine persons were killed when marchers forming part of a procession went by a seminary and mosque. As curfew was clamped down in the city, rumours and in some cases outright disinformation which were spread both by word of mouth and over popular social media websites, adding further uncertainty and unease in what was an already troubled situation. While the ministry for information technology says that it has not yet received any formal directives regarding the ban, it seems likely that these will come in soon, with social networking websites to be monitored for inflammatory content. The Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, had also mentioned the measure at a press conference following the violence.
Social media has indeed been used to spread hatred, both now and in the past. But perhaps, beyond the effort to patrol it is the need to also control hatred that is spread in other ways: loudspeakers, sometimes used at mosques are one example of how this happens. Pamphlets, CDs and ‘sermons’ delivered at gatherings are another. Beyond the social media, it is these means that are used to spread hatred and extremist ideas that, too, need to be controlled. Clamping down on social media alone is of limited value, even if the government’s intentions are good. What we also need is a campaign to tackle the existence of hatred in our society and address the problem at the ground level. The role of seminaries and sectarian and jihadi outfits spreading hatred all need to be examined. A far-reaching campaign involving the mainstream media and reform of school curricula is required. Social media is, after all, in so many ways, a reflection of what is happening in society. It is this society, too, that we need to transform if we are to win our battle against the intolerance that is threatening to destroy our social fabric. What is required is an effort that expands well beyond social media and its various channels. Tackling these alone will not be enough.