Not the world’s top porn-searching nation

Pakistan was unfairly maligned but there was no vast conspiracy to make Pakistan look bad


M Bilal Lakhani January 28, 2015
The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

Does Pakistan have a porn problem or a propaganda problem? This story begins with a sensational article posted on Salon.com recently, which claimed that “according to data released by Google, six of the top eight porn-searching countries are Muslim states. Pakistan tops the list at number one, followed by Egypt at number two. Pakistan leads the way in porn searches for animals like pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats and snakes.” The article was picked up by local news outlets and the story spread like wildfire on Pakistan’s social media networks. I got a Facebook message from a friend claiming this was propaganda against Pakistan because no one can trace the original source of this data. “Can you raise some voice against it?” he asked.

I’m usually cynical of the ‘everything is a propaganda/conspiracy against’ Pakistan school of thought. I wanted to get the facts so I could argue that all our problems aren’t imagined foreign conspiracies. I wrote to Google, requesting that they share their data quoted in the article. Google’s Head of Communications for Malaysia, Pakistan & Bangladesh wrote back to me with the following note: “We have never released any data relating to adult content. The Salon.com article may have derived it using the publicly available Google Trends tool (we are checking with them if that is indeed the case).”

Next, I wrote to the author of the Salon.com article directly and asked her for the source of the Google data. She replied back by saying, “I got the information from a piece put together by Canadian journalist Aisha Sabeer,” and she sent me a link to Aisha’s article, published on a website called “Muslims and the world”. The article actually quotes this data but does it with the intention to help Muslims overcome their ‘porn’ problem. Aisha’s article ends with the following paragraph:

“Pornography addiction is an issue which can no longer be brushed aside by the Muslim community. If the community continues to deny there is a problem, it makes it harder for them to admit their issues and seek help. Fortunately, there are some Muslims tackling the issue over the internet, with a number of pornography addiction programmes available. One of the best programmes available today is Purify Your Gaze by Zeyad Ramadan. If you are suffering from, or know someone who has a pornography addiction then please visit the Purify Your Gaze website to start on the road towards breaking your pornography addiction permanently Insha Allah.”

I’ve tweeted to Aisha to seek a comment/clarification on the source of her data but she hasn’t responded as I write this. However, she doesn’t appear to be part of any anti-Muslim conspiracy. In fact, her other articles portray Islam positively; for example, one of her other articles is titled “Trust in Allah and He will suffice”.

This is where the story gets interesting. In the absence of any report being released by Google, it’s likely that Aisha used the publicly available Google trends tool to see which countries top the list for porn-related searches. Many Pakistani bloggers have rightly run an independent search on Google trends and dismissed Pakistan’s ranking on the top of the list but this is contingent on the exact ‘search term’ being used. For example, I used one of Aisha’s search terms of ‘animal sex’ and it’s true that Pakistan tops the list. But this is really cherry-picking data to blow a problem out of proportion (no pun intended). As Aisha hasn’t responded to the request for comment, one can assume she’s done this to highlight the need for Muslims to seek help — perhaps a good cause in and of itself.

Here are the conclusions of this investigation from the information we have at the moment: first, there was no adult content data released by Google. Second, the author of the Salon.com article and local news outlets took data from Aisha’s story without verifying or adding any context, which exacerbated the issue. Third, Pakistan was unfairly maligned but there was no vast conspiracy to make Pakistan look bad. It was shoddy journalism that did the trick. And the last conclusion: truth is sometimes more interesting and more sensational than conspiracy theories. Always dig for facts before rushing to judgment about porn, propaganda and Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th,  2015.

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COMMENTS (7)

haris | 6 years ago | Reply

this is indeed propaganda against Islam and Pakistan.. how did the author come to know all of a sudden about the data which isn't even received by Google!! last time also the program in which Pakistan was declared as the "winner",was Israel's program.. so rest u can understand yourself ...!!!!

capitivity of positivity | 6 years ago | Reply

Well i think overall porn searching has been increased in Pakistan due the used of VPN softwares to visit the Youtube, mostly, as VPN user can visit all blocked website so porn trend is increasing. Its time to open the Youtube because its not only a entertaining website but also provides education materiel to many students.

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