The saga of YouTube ban

The saga of YouTube outage in Pakistan is a classic case of starting over without a closure. Hence, the YouTube opening last Friday brought only ephemeral joys to those eagerly waiting after the Prime Minster himself reportedly annulled the move. Since Google didn’t oblige to PTA’s request to block the contents of the sacrilegious anti-Islam film on YouTube, the matter had been in limbo for over three months.

Reportedly, a national URL filtering system is going to be deployed in Pakistan whose objective will be to block blasphemous and pornographic web contents at the basic, URL level. After this deployment, PTA and the ISPs will be able to block the URLs linked to that video, paving the way for YouTube to be opened in Pakistan. It is not known as to how much time that will take.

That process must be expedited because the large video sharing platform of YouTube has its benefits for the people. Junaid Khan, the left-arm medium-fast bowler who wowed everyone with his swing bowling against the Indian top order last Sunday, is said to have learnt these swing bowling skills watching YouTube videos of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus. The 23-year-old Khan hails from Matra, Swabi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

Until few months ago, before the YouTube ban went into effect, kids training in cricket academies would tell similar stories. Teenagers on the tennis courts could be seen talking about how they learnt a particular forehand or backhand shot in a YouTube video that they wanted to practice with their coach. Musician friends could be overheard discussing new chords and notes they improvised watching YouTube videos.

The point is that YouTube had gradually become a medium in Pakistan through which passion and talent started developing into skills. There must be several more examples like Khan’s, in various fields. It almost goes unnoticed, but YouTube has a complementary effect on education at various levels.

YouTube is an immense learning resource for students and teachers as well as parents and coaches, who all can benefit from lectures and talks by eminent scholars, professors and practitioners. Video libraries of online self-learning sites like the ‘Khan Academy’ and ‘Coursera’ are readily available on YouTube, helping those looking to learn or master concepts and skills.

Learning work skills is another area. The first CEO of Pakistan’s Universal Service Fund (USF) highlighted USF’s experience in this regard while speaking to BR Research over a year ago. He referred to the pilot for the USF’s ‘Universal Telecenters’ project in rural areas which showed that females enrolled in these Telecenters, for computer literacy, demonstrated great interest in learning new stitching designs and sewing techniques from YouTube videos.

Similarly, YouTube’s platform has been found to immensely benefit computer programmers, software engineers, researchers, and those engaged in other kinds of knowledge work. For all these positive reasons, and many more which could not be narrated here, the ban on YouTube should be lifted in Pakistan, after addressing the underlying issue, at the earliest.

Pakistan Press Foundation

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