Today at any gathering of communicators, journalists and marketers, the impacts and possibilities of social media for connecting groups and social networking are some of the most vigorous talked about topics? Not only since Barack Obama’s successful use of online communication, but also among politicians of all persuasions and ages. Also, the new medium increasingly attracts the interest of civil society activists, policy makers, and development organizations.
The political scene in Pakistan is in full heat midst all the uncomfortable steam of the governance chaos, economic instability, war on terror, energy crisis and all that is constantly aired on the domestic and global news and media. Despite all this chaos and pitfalls of democracy in Pakistan, the political stage is getting ready for the best election drama of the new millennium, a moment in history that everyone across the world will be interested in following. What will be the future of Pakistan and its governance?
Now hardcore politics is not the focus of this discussion but more about how the political parties and key political actors have taken to the Internet, World Wide Web and Social Media to heat up the political battleground for upcoming elections. There is not a single domestic television program, anchor or analyst who may not be using the Internet and World Wide Web as a means to have an interactive dialogue with their audiences and citizenry of Pakistan.
According to Jared Cohen, Director Google Ideas, “Ten years ago, the number of people who had access to the Internet was 361 million; today it’s two billion. In the year 2000, (only) 300,000 people in Pakistan were using cell phones; today it’s 100 million. You can’t say technology doesn’t matter.” Reportedly, there are over 20 million internet users and three million bloggers in Pakistan. Considering these statistics, technology and ultimately, social media can shape the future of the country.
People tweeting on news, political and social affairs are usually journalists and avid internet users, but also politicians. The assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was known for his activity on Twitter, sending out regular messages with comments on daily politics. The Minister of the Interior Rehman Malik and the former mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal also use the micro blogging services.
During the Pakistan Blog Awards 2011 ceremony in Karachi, Imran Khan stated that social media played an important part in harboring a revolution in any country because most of the social media activists and users are the Youth acknowledging this role played by the young during the Arab Spring and revolutions in the Middle East and Northern Africa. His rally was broadcast live by the party Social Media Team across the world using a live stream generating a continuously rising following of over 30,000 viewers mostly from around the globe.
Also Prime Minister Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif's party is also now seemingly using its provincial government infrastructure to initiate and lead a Social Media effort. PML (N) official website mostly portraying its leader's imagery is located here. Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has a Facebook Page here and Twitter following here that appears to be more personality driven than party driven but lacking the following that Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf enjoy online.
While on the other hand, Facebook and Twitter allowed the protesters to write history as they pleased by shaping a narrative and sticking to it. Consequently, electronic media helped create negative sentiments against the government. While Facebook was the meeting point for cyber activism, Twitter was useful in spreading the word out to the broader world. It greatly helped in gaining the attention of the world community.
Conclusively, social media is on the rise, and it has helped young people be heard. With over 63% of Pakistan’s population under the age of 25, social media empowers young people and ensures socio-political transformation in the country. With the growth of Internet in Pakistan, the rapidly expanding online population is feeling more empowered than ever to engage in free expression as part of their growing political and social activism.