Kashmir social media ban: Government, Opposition's use of Facebook, Twitter reeks of hypocrisy

The Jammu and Kashmir government imposed month-long ban on 22 social media and instant messaging services in Kashmir on 26 April, but that ban has become a source of mockery. Not only have people found ways to skirt the ban using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), even government officers and its functionaries based in Kashmir regularly use Facebook and other banned networks. Perhaps, in any other state, such an open disregard for the the government's orders by its own state machinery and officials would entail strict action against the offenders. In Kashmir, such actions are being overlooked.

Why blame ordinary men and women, when the officers who are supposed to implement the ban, violate the orders?

Many people in the ruling establishment, as well as those in the the Opposition are using VPNs to circumvent the ban. The Mehbooba Mufti-led government had banned Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp among other services, arguing that the social media sites were "being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements" for fomenting trouble in valley.

Last week, the Director General of Police, SP Vaid tweeted: “2 fidayeen of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) killed by JKP SOG/Army of Magam District Handwara in a brief encounter. #JaiHind.”

Soon, social media users commented that the ban has become a joke on those who imposed it in first place, saying that even the head of police is defying it.

Recently the former IGP of police, SIM Gilani held a press conference in Srinagar on the prevailing situation in the Valley. While the ban remains in place, the presser was broadcast live on Facebook. Suhail A Shah, a journalist based in Anantnag, wrote on his Facebook page that the police chief of Kashmir talked about how militants using iPhones did not matter because apps have been blocked.

And, it isn't just the police officers who have found ways and means to skirt the ban. Even civilians use VPNs to keep themselves abreast of the goings-on in the Valley. It is as if the ban hasn't been implemented at all. "They imposed a ban but forgot that there are ways through which one can bypass this ban. Virtual Private Network is an ultimate tool to access blocked websites. It is fairly simple. It offers a choice to access from any country and a user has an option from choosing from a wide range of countries,” Amir Ali, owner of a café on polo-view road in Srinagar, said.

 Kashmir social media ban: Government, Oppositions use of Facebook, Twitter reeks of hypocrisy

Active social media profiles of (L-R) Omar Abdullah, Altaf Bukhari, SP Vaid

Even the ministers and aides of the government are openly violating the order. Since the ban was imposed in the state, education minister Altaf Bukhari has updated his status almost every day, listing the meetings he has had with teachers or urging legislators and civil society to take ownership of schools.

The rural development minister Abdul Haq Khan updates his social media accounts whenever he presides over any meeting. Kashmir Police's media centre also runs its page smoothly, updating the day's events and information after every hour. Opposition leader and former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, also tweets regularly and updates his Facebook page.

"It is true that Omar saheb might be using VPN to stay in touch with the party workers across the state through social media. But so do ministers of the ruling dispensation," Junaid Mattu, the spokesman of National Conference, who regularly uses Twitter through VPN, said.

While the ban has hardly worked in Kashmir, with violence and protests going on unabated and militants having uploaded at least five videos since the ban was imposed, has caused more resentment towards the government. “The only difference is that the VPN reduces your internet speed, rest everything works smoothly,” Adnan Bhat, a student at Amar Singh College said. “In today's world, it is almost impossible to ban social media."

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Updated Date: May 17, 2017 08:22:10 IST