YouTube ban and the awry aftermath

The YouTube ban in Pakistan entered into its third week yesterday. Government had issued orders last month to impose a blanket ban on the video sharing website in response to a blasphemous, sacrilegious video that caused outrage and indignation among Muslims. Reportedly, this decision was taken after Google Inc., the parent company of YouTube, refused to take down the blasphemous video contents.

Google has already denied access to the blasphemous video in countries like Malaysia, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Libya – citing compliance with the laws and jurisdiction in these countries where it is registered. Apparently, since the Company is not registered in Pakistan, it chose not to voluntarily block local access here, ignoring the government’s request.

As any meaningful closure to this recent blasphemy episode seems nowhere in sight, YouTube will likely remain blocked in the near future. However, it appears that the government action of banning the entire website, rather than blocking only the related contents, has gone beyond than that to harm local internet users, though inadvertently.

Various other Google services have been disrupted, have experienced slowdown, or cannot be accessed altogether after the directives were implemented. For instance, users are experiencing problems on Gmail, Gmail Chat and Google Talk applications. Google Drive (the online document editing service) and Google Analytics (service for website traffic and trends) remain disrupted.

The Google Map service, which an increasing number of Pakistanis are found to be using to navigate in their cities and across the country, is also unavailable since the YouTube ban.

Users of Android-powered mobiles are deeply impacted. The Gmail application is experiencing difficulties in sending and receiving emails because it is currently unable to sync via internet. These users cannot access Google Play Store (Androids mobile application market) to update the installed applications and the Android OS. After a while, some mobile applications stop working if latest updates are not installed.

Googles search engine, its Firefox web browser, and its Ad-sense service are working fine, though.

The disruption in other Google services may seem to be a trivial matter – but it is not. Whatever number of Pakistani population is online; they are having difficulties because of their dependence on Google services in so many ways besides infotainment. A growing number of businesses (big and small), schools and research institutes are benefitting from Googles above-mentioned services and applications.

Are the concerned authorities to blame for this? Or should the Internet service providers be found at fault? Or is it Google itself which is behind this mess?

The disruption in services is most likely due to proper care not exercised by the local authorities and ISPs. Google has a centralized information architecture which creates interdependencies across its various services. Banning the entire YouTube platform (which is perhaps one of the most complicated and integrated services after the search engine) was bound to affect other services, too, experts opine.

Essentially, rather than filtering the blasphemous content, the authorities chose to put in place a wall (i.e. blocked the whole platform), but any wall can be climbed or broken through (in this case, by using proxy servers). Unless the government comes around and filters only the blasphemous contents, or Google decides to delete or block local access of the video, the ordeal of Pakistani internet users will continue.

On a broader level, taking substantive measures – (for instance, summoning emergency meeting of the OIC, or presenting a resolution in the United Nations for universal legislation against blasphemy) – would have registered the protest in a better way than engaging in self-defeating and self-destructing symbolism.

Pakistan Press Foundation

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