For the past few months, digital rights, freedom of internet, and an open internet have been the main points on the agenda of freedom of expression activists in Pakistan. Open minded and liberal folks are also disturbed by the possibility of having their only outlet for expression taken away. Much buzz and chatter has come about since the proposal and then the passing of the Cybercrime Bill 2015 by the National Assembly Standing Committee.
As an individual, or let me say a responsible individual with no malicious intent to steal, damage, threaten, forge, temper or gain unauthorised access to anything on the internet, I support laws against irresponsible and malicious minded individuals. However, this is not the place to share my personal thoughts. I can do that on my own social profile. Well, at least hopefully for sometime.
Instead, I have been viewing this bill from the lens of a digital media marketer and as the head of an agency working with many different brands and products. Before we go into this, it would be beneficial to talk about the importance of content. The expression ‘Content is King’, holds true on any medium. However, content is truly the king on the internet be it on social platforms, blogs, reviews and media which is not controlled and/or regulated.
For the digital marketing industry and for the content makers, this bill poses a few challenges that can directly affect the way brands and agencies will take their communications forward.
Let’s start with the most obvious issue and one that has been identified by pretty much every other publication from ProPakistani.pk to Tribune and DAWN blogs. The term ‘malicious intent’ used throughout the document is a very vaguely defined term. There is no detailed explanation of what can be considered malicious and what can not. Keeping this in mind, it becomes very easy to paint any action or piece of content as malicious. Let’s see how this can affect digital communication, in no particular order.
For the digital marketing industry and for the content makers, this Bill poses a few challenges that can directly affect the way brands and agencies will take their communications forward.
1.) Good advertising and marketing is about how quickly a brand jumps on trends, participates in current affairs or exploits the failure of the competition. To do so successfully, digital agencies are expected to constantly listen and traverse the social media platforms, create relevant content, connect it to the brand’s tone and get it out there. The concept of brand wars is all about being funny, witty and on point. However, with the above-mentioned definition, or lack of it, content producers will have to walk on eggshells paralysed by the fear of being penalised. This leaves very little room for creativity.
2.) The concept of digital PR, paid or organic, is to activate influencers, key opinion leaders and celebrities to speak about a brand, with the space to use their own creative sense. This can potentially create a situation where individuals may find themselves in a spot, losing their liberty to express themselves freely.
3.) What will happen to the marketing and advertising groups on Facebook? We need to realise that forums such as Advertistan, KAMN and others are there for free expression and full on bashing of brand communications. As Brand X or Director X or Agency X, I can basically file at least 100 cases a week for defamation and injury to reputation. (Okay this may not be so bad as it may put a stop to the senseless blabber, but that is just my opinion.)
4.) Oh and memes! Imagine Facebook without any funny content or memes making fun of politicians, brands, celebrities and the media. How bland will that be? Recently, I went through a post on ‘If Pakistani brands had honest taglines.’ I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would like to give them a pat on the back for such funny content. Will this type of content fall into the no-go category?
5.) Section 25 touches on the authority to block websites based on immoral, indecent content. This is going to be by far the biggest disaster in terms of digital media buying. We don’t know what is considered immoral; more than half the nation can find almost anything immoral or indecent and there basically will be very little room to run relevant digital media campaigns. Be it blogs, online publications or entertainment content sites, it is important for brands to be seen where their target audience is. It won’t be cool for media managers to learn about a site shutting down, mid-campaign.
6.) Spamming. Yes, please! I truly believe this clause is very good. It is time that spamming through annoying text messages stops. No matter how you feel, unwanted messages are not cool.
Overall, there are many clauses that, if implemented, can improve Pakistan’s online society. Threats, bullying, stalking, cyber terrorism, forgery and so on need to be part of the law and with well defined penalties. This said, it is very important that the Bill is defined in further detail and be free of ambiguity and vagueness. As a digital media marketer, there should be a certain level of freedom to create content, in good taste, which can increase my brand’s reach, engagement and shareability.
Azam Jalal Khan is COO, Digitz. firstname.lastname@example.org