How Not to Regulate Disinformation: The 2024 General Elections and the Misregulation of Disinformation

Disinformation poses a significant threat to political participation, social discourse, and democracy in countries across the globe. The spread of disinformation online creates problems regarding access to credible information, political polarization, manipulation of social media, trust in the news media, the circulation of incorrect health information, and hate speech. However, while disinformation is a serious threat, government efforts to address it can impair the fundamental human right to free expression, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan and international human rights law. This is particularly true if laws are crafted to define disinformation in a manner that captures legitimate political dissent and critiques of the government or public officials.

This report examines Pakistan’s regulatory response to disinformation in view of the general elections scheduled to take place on February 8, 2024. It does so through a question-and- answer format that defines key terms and concepts that are essential to understanding the debate over government measures to address disinformation. Our report finds that:

  1. The overly broad definition of disinformation in Pakistani law, coupled with the increased enforcement authority of centralized government agencies, lead to the possibility of such laws being used to censor media contrary to the freedom of expression guarantees under the Constitution of Pakistan.
  2. Current and proposed legislation infringes the freedom of expression of all Pakistanis and thus violates international human rights standards.

Bolo Bhi is grateful for the assistance of the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic (TLPC) at the University of Colorado Law School in producing this report. We wish to acknowledge the contributions of TLPC Student Attorneys Sebastian Blitt, Madeline Finlayson, and Sarah Misché and of Vivek Krishnamurthy, TLPC’s Director, in researching and drafting this report.

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