ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has been blocking websites and social media links that circulate materials aimed at inciting religious disharmony, extremism and militancy, officials said.
"After the promulgation of Pakistan Cyber Crimes Bill 2016, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has started blocking all sorts of materials on social media that ignite fanaticism, incite religious hatred and provoke extremism and militancy," PTA Media Affairs Director Khurram Mehran told Pakistan Forward.
The PTA has established a cell that immediately takes action on complaints relating to hate material posted on social media in Pakistan by militants or other individuals, he said.
The PTA also installed a mechanism that blocks links to articles and pictures relating to disharmony, militancy or obscenity, Mehran said, adding that it is taking every step to discourage the use of social media for spreading hatred and extremism.
Anyone who sees hateful material or extremist propaganda on social media can report it to the PTA for quick action, he said.
Spreading hate against any religion or on sectarian grounds is punishable by imprisonment and/or fines under the law, also called the Prevention of Electronics Crimes Bill 2016, which the National Assembly passed in August.
ISIL's social media agenda
Enforcing the law against online content that incites hate, extremism and violence is of particular importance in countering "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) propaganda, security analysts say.
ISIL is a brutal, tech-savvy terrorist group that uses media to portray itself as a legitimate political and religious institution, according to the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).
The group uses social media in order to propagate its ideology, recruit international youth, threaten its opponents and publicise its alleged war victories, ISSI said in a recent report analysing ISIL's media strategy.
The increased influence of media in contemporary strategic affairs motivated ISIL to formulate a media policy that enables it to reach a large audience with minimum cost and time, the report said.
"Media is considered as the most important tool in warfare and diplomacy since it has become a bridge between the government and public," the report said. "Moreover, contemporary media extends beyond a geographic battlefield, bridging traditional war tactics to disseminate brutality online."
ISIL has capitalised on this resource and is "capable of using technology to advance their military and political objectives", the report said. It uses traditional and social media "to glorify and glamourise life with and under" the so-called caliphate.
The key objectives of ISIL's media strategy include creating the perception of the world as "immoral and divided", to label Muslims who are against ISIL as "traitors", to legitimise its authority and to threaten its enemies while directly communicating with audiences all over the world, according to the report
ISIL aims "to instill fear in the hearts and minds of [its] opponents and rivals", "to indoctrinate its ideas into the minds of youth", "to recruit new militants, strengthen its force and area of influence" and "to establish liaison with other militants, supporters or sympathisers and to persuade them to execute ISIL-style attacks in foreign lands", the study argued.
"Social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile applications,chatting and social networking sites [sic] etc., provide a wide range of forums to ISIS to reach out to the young, more gullible age groups, which is more susceptible to choose violence because of violent socio-political structures and the lack of peace education," the report said.
Countering ISIL ideology, extremism
Pakistan must take every effort to counter ISIL's extremist ideology and its use of media and social media to spread its lies and deceit, security analysts say.
"The Pakistani government and security organisations must discourage the circulation of brochures, pamphlets and books that ignite sectarian and religious hatred, leading to extremism and militancy," Mubasher Mir, a security analyst and resident editor of Daily Pakistan in Karachi, told Pakistan Forward.
Furthermore, Pakistan must enforce a ban on speeches and religious sermons that lead to extremism and to recruitment of militants and motivate listeners to support militancy, he said.
"Scores of seminaries in the country are openly circulating printed materials in the shape of brochures, posters and pamphlets that provoke militancy and motivate people to join militant organisations," he said.
Leaders and recruiters of pro-ISIL militant organisations in Pakistan should be arrested immediately to prevent ISIL from getting a foothold in Pakistan, Mir said.
"ISIL is trying to penetrate Pakistan, and efforts must be made to keep this global terror outfit away from Pakistan," Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt, a Karachi-based security analyst, told Pakistan Forward.
"ISIL is not only using social media but also offering money and weapons to militants who would join it," he said.
"As they have against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the security organisations should evolve a comprehensive strategy to pre-empt penetration of [ISIL] in Pakistan and take action against local militants who could join this terror outfit," he said.