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March 13, 2020 - Comments Off on Protecting Your Digital Rights During The COVID-19 Outbreak

Protecting Your Digital Rights During The COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. The virus’ spread across the world has been rapid and has caused panic in almost all countries of the world, including Pakistan. While the gravity of the situation is definitely being felt in the medical field, we feel that the situation has implications on human rights, and these are implications we are simply not addressing.

With COVID-19, we’ve seen part of the fight against the disease being fought online. People across the globe are using the internet and social media to get information, to keep up to date and to track the spread of the virus. This dissemination and collection of data is unprecedented given how the digital world has grown since the last global pandemic.

Right To Privacy

Information and data regarding your Health is sensitive information. Health data is extremely personal and should only be in the hands of the individual. In situations as dire as these, it still needs to be ensured that this data is handled correctly and sensitively. In Pakistan, we are yet to enact a data protection bill, which is why it is important that ethics play a part in all fields. Details like who has tested positive, where they live and who their family are should not be leaked to the public. In times of such urgency, it is important for people to remember their rights to privacy and their right to not consent to their information being shared. 

A Rise In Racism, Xenophobia

When Pakistan confirmed its first two cases of the Coronavirus, it became public knowledge that one of the patients had recently traveled to Iran, and returned with the virus. This incited a lot of harassment against the family of the patient, moreover, a lot of people took to social media to target members of Shia sect. 

In addition to this, it has been internationally reported that there’s been a spike in racism against people who are Chinese or who hail from the Far East. Due to the CPEC project, Pakistan has been a huge influx of Chinese expats, and this trend is concerning as it could negatively affect these people’s quality of life.

Social media companies, along with the government and conventional media should work to tackle these issues and raise awareness about the disease, rather than let hatred for others take over the collective discourse.


Social media has been chaotic since the outbreak of the COVID-19. In the panic, people have been sharing unverified information continuously on social platforms, thereby only feeding the panic further. While the situation around the disease is of a high priority, this rampant spreading of misinformation has led to more fear and panic.It is this frantic level of misinformation that has made the WHO up their social media presence. 

In these circumstances it should be the top priority to social media companies to flag unverified information. Also they should work with the WHO and national level health agencies to spread verified information and up to date stats and data. In such circumstances, it is very easy to be swept up in panic, this panic is exaggerated on social media platforms and it is the responsibility of these companies to help control this panic.

Conventional Media 

Traditional media is equally responsible for the spread of misinformation. Media ethics and values need to play a crucial part in the reporting of this pandemic. Furthermore, stories revolving patients, their families and their treatment need to be dealt with with a lot of sensitivities, just as any other story is dealt with. 

Media regulatory bodies need to be super vigilant about the spread of misinformation as large portions of society still rely on conventional media for their information. Such a relaxed approach towards this issue can lead to hysteria and panic. The media should be used to raise awareness and give people the necessary information with which to tackle this disease.


There have been reported incidents in both Iran and China of governments that have actively tried to suppress information about the virus getting out to the public. This is a dangerous development given that it is an attack on freedom of speech and is also an attempt to keep the public aloof of the severity of the issue at hand. Censorship is truly not the way for governments to deal with this situation. It must be tackled by collaboration, transparency and open communication. People should be able to trust their government, not doubt the information provided by them. 

The situation in Pakistan with regards to the Coronavirus is still developing. We, at Digital Rights Foundation, are keeping an eye out for the developments regarding the disease and also assessing how the digital rights sphere is being affected. We will keep posting updates as we get them.

Till then we advise all of you to take the necessary precautions against the virus.

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog

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