As published by Dawn Magazine Special Report on 20th Oct’2013 

“There was life before YouTube you know” … say those trying to smooth my ruffled feathers when I express frustration at not being able to access it. Quite true … but the same is true of life before cars or television or the light bulb or toilet that can be flushed or even sliced bread! Why doesn’t everyone go back to it because all of these things offend someone or the other’s sensibilities at some stage?

No one does … because we are not meant to; we are meant to go forward, embrace change and reap its benefits. As with most things, nothing is good or bad in itself. The usage makes it so. It’s difficult to understand for people who are the progeny of those who labelled first the loudspeaker, then the radio, and then the TV/VCR, etc. as ‘Satanic devices’ but is simple for anyone with common sense.

YouTube is a platform; much like a blackboard, or a loudspeaker. It provides an opportunity for people to post video content on it. Yes, it has the good, the bad and the ugly sides, depending on who is watching what, but what it does NOT have is the ability to force you to see what you think is inappropriate.

What it does is that it allows students sitting in an impoverished part of the world to gain access to resources and guidance material developed by the best educational institutions in the world.

It allows musical prodigies like Usman Riaz from Pakistan to unlock their talent and reach the world stage. It allows people like Salman Khan of Bangladesh to set up his amazing www.khanacademy.org which has delivered over 300 million lectures across the world.

Then we have our very own www.sabaq.pk which has the complete curriculum of maths right up to Matric available on YouTube videos for students the world over.

It has delights such as www.toffeetv.com, which entertains and educates little children, and on the other end of the spectrum it had offered a free platform to our Virtual University to post all its educational content on it.

Then we had the innovative platform for webtv that was offered by www.247online.tv to engage the youth that does not watch television.

What about the harm this ban has done to initiatives like www.daestv whose entire business model was based on the availability of this free platform?

And what about the wealth of content that our specialist universities like the NED used to access from MIT or Air University? And medical students watching complicated surgeries and learning from them?

As was explained by Farieha Aziz of Bolobhi, the amicus curie for the Lahore High Court hearing the petition against YouTube ban, filed by BytesforAll, Pakistan [a human rights organisation with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies], there were 13,049,489 views on YouTube for videos from just six educational institutions in Pakistan that used the website to place their video lectures. The institutions included the Virtual University of Pakistan, The Institute of Chartered Accountants Pakistan, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, National University of Sciences and Technology.

For those who adopt a dismissive attitude about the art, music and other entertainment resources, even though they are just as important as components of a holistic education, how can they not value the resources that are there in the form of advocacy videos on health, fitness, environment, religion, cooking, DIY tips, advocacy videos put up there by various organisations. What about political and social activism? None of these would have been possible without this free medium.

Data submitted to the Lahore High Court also lists down some very clear contrasts. Total number of views for Islamic and educational content on YouTube were 1,199,368,564, while the total worldwide views of the objectionable film, The Innocence of Muslims, on YouTube were 1,965,186, which is just 0.164 per cent of the former.

Of course, the figures for the offending film owe a lot to the violent protests in Muslim countries which spiked the interest in this very amateurish video which had remained obscure until all hell broke loose here. It probably would have remained so had it been ignored, but what is past is past.

What is the way forward? Is there a way forward in a country where policies are made hostage to violent street protest and where rational discourse is decapitated?

For those who do not seem to understand the way the new medium of the internet works, it is impossible to block something. There are ways to get around these bans. People have found them in countries like China and Iran too.

Such bans encourage people to use proxies. This exposes their computers to the risk of viruses. Offices and institutions certainly will not allow that even if it means not being able to benefit from online resources.

But this does not mean that people are going to stay away. As posted by http://www.infopakistan.pk, the search trends about Pakistanis on YouTube have not changed from what they were in 2012. This means that just about the same number of people are accessing the medium as before the ban.

There are good and bad people, good and bad books, good and bad movies, restaurants and theatre. Similarly there is good and bad content on the internet. However, you can keep yourself out of harm’s way by not accessing it. No one is going to force it on you.

So go ahead, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you can afford to. Otherwise, just Google Youtube unblockers and choose from any number of ways to access YouTube, after making sure your computer is secured against viruses, etc. Watch all that is best on YouTube as it is NOT bad for you!

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