A NEW CORRIDOR FOR POLITICS AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM IN PAKISTAN
Social media has become an increasingly significant part of the daily lives of billions of users, and politics is no exception. Its impact in politics has become the new trend as it grows in importance as a forum for political activism. Various social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, provide new and innovative ways to motivate the engagement of citizens in political life. It is indeed one of the best ways to pull ideas out of a large audience in an incredibly short span of time.
The rise of social media has transformed the way political communications are carried out. Political leaders, political parties, institutions and foundations are all increasingly using social media as a new way to communicate and engage with voters. Individuals, politicians, thought leaders and other such people are able to express their opinions, engage with an extensive network and connect with other likeminded individuals through this platform. Social media is, thus, elevating the nature of communication to an all new level where users can conveniently and directly connect with politicians and campaign managers, and involve in political activities. Social media outlets (like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube) allow politicians to interact with the voters without spending a dime. Another positive impact is that it has created abounding opportunities for voters to interact with political figures and entities. Live-streaming is one perfect example to quote here because it makes possible to vicariously attend the events and interact with the political figures.
Pakistan is also a part of this international network, and the social media here has become a new avenue to be used not only by companies and individuals to promote their businesses but also to generate opinions regarding social and political issues. Interestingly, the pattern of social media use in Pakistan appears to be no different than that in the United States or the United Kingdom. The most popular social media website in Pakistan is Facebook. According to the data compiled for the first three months of 2018, the number of people using social media around the world rose by more than 100 million, touching roughly 3.3 billion by the end of March 2018. For Pakistan, the active number of Facebook users stood at 35 million at the end of January 2018 – a 13 percent rise from the corresponding period last year. The percentage of users declared as male on Facebook stood at 77 percent, compared to a figure of 23 percent for females, revealed the report. For the age bracket 18-24, female users shot up to 11 percent and male usage rose to 31 percent, indicating this segment of the population was using Facebook the most and was the most tech-savvy of the lot. For 25-34 age bracket, the user base stood at 11 million with females constituting 7 percent and males once again dominating this segment. With age brackets increasing, the percentage of female and male users using social media exhibited a significant decline with the number of users falling from 3,300,000 in 35-44 segment to a paltry 290,000 for people aged 65 and above for both genders. This may not be an accurate indicator to gauge Facebook usage by gender breakdown, but it does disclose the mainstream adoption of social media by females remains severely hampered.
Social media has created a space for it in Pakistani politics as it has attracted a vast majority of Pakistani people within a very short period of time. Although it apparently changes the perception of people quickly, it also affects Pakistani youth. After the advancement of social media it is now much convenient to take part in political discussions. Many people, especially the youth, actively participate in political activities on different websites, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They get political news, posts, pictures from different online forums and share that content on their personal accounts. Through this activity, they can also do citizen journalism and engage in political activities. People get knowledge about all political happenings around the world and discus their ideas and perceptions about the politics with the rest of the world. Social media gives a pathway for political participation. It also promotes political parties, political leaders and democratic setups, and creates the powerful platform which educates and informs the people about the power of their vote. Most media organizations actively run their online forums like e-paper, social media news channel pages, especially Twitter handles. All these forums are creating new opportunities for people’s political participation. Since social media connects people in political discussion, therefore, the politicians are nowadays more answerable to people regarding their political activities to their followers. In the recent elections, most political parties used social media as a tool to attract the youth for voting.
Read More: SOCIAL MEDIA AND ELECTIONS
Various political parties have also taken the lead and are fervently using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to enhance and expand their party ideas, as well as providing day-to-day news updates regarding their leadership and party affairs. For others, the social media has also become a tool to smear, charge and accuse politicians of other parties by uploading news items, videos and claims to discredit them. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was one of the first parties to launch themselves on social media, specifically Facebook. PTI chief, Imran Khan capitalized on Facebook and YouTube to launch his political career and promote himself as a leader. Imran Khan’s popularity has increased manifold because of social media and how he has been able to convey his viewpoint and party agenda effectively via the social media. Following the PTI, the PPP, PML-N, MQM and most other political parties have started using the social media as an effective tool for getting prospective voters on board. These pages are very actively updated and monitored.
Print, electronic and social media are responsible for identifying the problems that exist and persist in a society and proposing, thereupon, their pragmatic solutions. While doing so, the respective medium has to take up the additional task of nipping the evil in the bud. This is exactly what our media has failed to do. Another baggage that social media, in particular, has to carry is related to the ability of anyone and everyone to post anything and everything. This is the biggest hurdle in nipping the evil because the bud is too extensive to be dealt with. This, in turn, puts a huge question mark on the authenticity of decisions one makes based on opinions procured from social media platforms in lieu of facts obtained from credible sources. Therefore, as Roxane Gay, an American professor and writer, says, “Social media is something of a double-edged sword. At its best, social media offers unprecedented opportunities for marginalized people to speak and bring much-needed attention to the issues they face. At its worst, social media also offers ‘everyone’ an unprecedented opportunity to share in collective outrage without reflection.” Thus, it is the adjudicator’s job to take valid influence from it as too much of undue mastery is incapable of serving good.
Social media has also played a significant role in the Arab Spring – revolutions that have struck the Arab world since 2011. It introduced a novel resource that provided swiftness in receiving and disseminating information; helped build and strengthen ties among activists; and increased interaction among and between protestors and the rest of the world. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the uprising in the Arab World, Twitter revolution of Iran and Occupy Wall Street are all examples of major movements that were floated as ideas on the social media outlets, later discussed, criticized, promoted and then implemented as full-fledged movements.
Social media has grounded its deep sociopolitical roots in Pakistan, so the government should actively monitor this sensitive state of affairs. It is also observed that in the recent past, some so-called religious scholars and banned religious outfits used social media in a very negative way and some political leaders used abusive language. This has created a negative image of our country on the global scale. Government should form an authority to regulate the entire activities of social media in the country; and ensure that the culprits who spread hatred among the people and society are brought to book. This can be said that social media is for use, not use it for abuse. If we want to make our country strong and create its softer image before the whole world, the Government of Pakistan should enhance the capability of check and balance on social media, and strengthen the law and its practice. Severe punishments should be given to those who create hatred and incite people on social media for their own interests in the name of politics, religion, caste and creed. Since social media is moderately new, its influence on politics has just begun. The future is all set to witness many political changes due to the social media. Internet voting is one big trend that we can expect; this trend could definitely lead to increased participation in elections. Polling techniques would become more common and hopefully more accurate. Expect more virtual political rallies; this one is surely going to be an interesting site to observe. Social media has redesigned structures and methods of modern political communication by transforming the way politicians interact with voters and each other. But, the role of this marvel in increasing electoral participation and political engagement is neither clear nor simple.