Digital limbo: Tech platforms raise funds for Pakistan but don’t let Pakistanis contribute
The internet is known to come together in times of major crises. All those years ago, Facebook had launched its ‘marked safe’ function. But with Pakistan currently reeling from one of the worst floods in its history, it seems as if the world’s biggest tech platforms have abandoned it.
The recent floods have exposed the technological divide between the developed and developing nations as those in United States, Europe or Australia can create fundraisers for the catastrophe-stricken Pakistan, but citizens in the country cannot.
Pakistanis can neither setup fundraisers on social media giants such as Facebook or Instagram, nor can they access funds taken in their name by foreign organizations as they battle the worst floods in recent history.
More than 1,000 people have been confirmed dead by the country’s disaster management authority while millions are at risk of dying from flood-related incidents, hunger, thirst or diseases. The country needs around $10 billion for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction for some 33 million people affected.
Yet, tech giants seem oblivious to the suffering of the world’s fifth most populous country (US Census Bureau July 2022 data).
Several charities, including international arms of local charities are collecting funds online through the platforms. All claime to work to alleviate the suffering of flood-hit Pakistanis but there are no checks in place to see if these funds will ever reach those in dire need of them, legal practitioners and digital rights activists told SAMAA TV.
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) Pakistan Director Research and Policy Shmyla Khan said digital discrimination have marred not only fundraising for disasters but also digital creators and businesses with services such as PayPal and Venmo and even Amazon not directly accessible.
She pointed out that recently, a US citizen made a ‘Go fund me’ campaign to collect donations for flood relief in Pakistan.
The tech company paused the financial transaction when they tried to transfer the collected funds to Pakistan.
In the face of such adversity, time is the real currency to get critical aid to people in need and any delay in the transfer of funds transfer can seriously dent flood relief efforts, Shmyla added.
“Tech platforms need to step up in these extraordinary times and extend emergency services to countries like Pakistan and play their part in getting timely relief to people on the ground,” she stated.
Meanwhile, Edhi Foundation operations head Saad Edhi seconded the view.
The country’s largest charity-run welfare organization in Pakistan has been facing a similar dilemma.
Tech giants do not allow direct donations through their website, he said.
“So many people back out when the ‘donate now’ button on Facebook redirects them to our website for funds transfer,” he stated, adding that it would be so much easier if Facebook could just let them receive funds directly.
It is easier for people when they see a heart-touching video of flood victims online and are able to donate with a single click.
“Hopefully, decision-makers in Facebook, Instagram and other digital financial transaction companies would do something about this. Particularly, when our country faces adversity of unprecedented proportions requiring global assistance,” the social activist concluded.
The government too has not stood up to create a legal framework to ascertain the usage of funds collected abroad on these platforms for usage at home or chart a pathway for their legal induction in the overall relief efforts.