The social media ban in Jammu and Kashmir has become a joke. As it turns out, people of the state have found an easy, effective way to flout the ban — virtual private networks (VPNs). They are facebooking, whatsapping and tweeting almost as actively as before by accessing the banned sites and apps through free VPNs.
As the name suggests, VPNs use proxy servers and allow users to change their location to circumvent such bans. This, and the fact that there are free VPNs easily available in the state, has turned out to be a boon for social media users here. Some of the providers are VPN Master, Turbo VPN and Super VPN Proxy.
This tweet by Kashmiri youth Jehangir Ali on May 14 is quite telling of how VPNs have rendered the social media ban ineffective and how the people of the state are ridiculing the government.
Social media ban in Kashmir has become a joke on those who imposed it in first place. Even the head of police uses VPN to circumvent the ban
— Jehangir Ali (@Gaamuk) May 14, 2017
It is difficult to zero down on the exact number of people who continue to use these banned sites, but an academic and civil society member who did not want to be named said, “A majority of youth who used to be active on social media before the ban are still using social media via VPNs.”
The state government, after initially stopping 3G and 4G internet services, decided to ban 22 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, on April 26 in an effort to stop circulation of videos, including some of human rights violations, in the wake of growing protests in colleges and universities across the state against the alleged violations.
For the first few days after the ban was announced, the government struggled to implement it due to technical inefficiencies and the sites remained accessible. This prompted social media users to taunt the government’s initiative on these ‘banned’ social media sites.
“Tala Yuman Anaden Haeyetou Kancha (Someone, please help these nincompoops),” a Facebook user posted in Kashmiri. There were hundreds of such taunts and angry comments on the Facebook timelines of people residing in the state.
However, four days later, the social media sites stopped working, thereby bringing the ban in effect.
Ironically, the ban was aimed at youth — to stop them posting potentially inflammatory content online, which could mobilise public opinion against the state government. But the youth, as we know, are tech savvy and will figure out a way around most bans. In this case, it was especially easy as there are several free VPN providers in the state.
Well-known Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez tweeted about the ban likening the use of “proxy servers” with a “proxy war” (against the undemocratic move). This was three days after the ban was announced, when people were still able to log in to social media sites normally, but had already started trying out VPNs.
Despite ban, use of proxy server is like proxy war… Kashmir wants to be heard.
— Khurram Parvez (@KhurramParvez) April 29, 2017
The New York Times journalist Ellen Barry also tweeted about the Kashmiri youth finding a way to flout the ban.
Kashmir youth so adept at Internet workarounds that it's becoming nearly impossible for state to shut down the Web. https://t.co/2YlQnIHGkP
— Ellen Barry (@EllenBarryNYT) April 29, 2017
However, the ban has certainly affected those who are not well-versed with using technology or don’t care for social media enough to make the effort of using VPNs. “I would not take the hassle of downloading a VPN app just for using social media. Who cares?” said Reyaz Ahmad, a teacher in his late 40s.