VIEW : Social media: a new paradigm in Pakistani politics — Shafiq Solangi
Social networks are the best medium for our political parties to attract and engage their followers and voters
Gone are the days when we used to wait for a morning paper to know about national and international affairs; because of social media, we get the information as it happens. Today, in this advanced world of information technology, we are interconnected with the world around. Text messages, e-mails, facebook, twitter, blog spheres and other social media tools have replaced traditional media, like radio, print and television.
The internet has been perhaps the most outstanding innovation in the field of communication and research; today, a big chunk of the world’s population uses the internet for multi purposes. Internet World Stats (IWS) estimated that there are around 2,267,233,742 internet users in the world, which is 32.7 percent of the total world population. While a regional breakup suggests that 44.8 percent of total internet users are Asian, interestingly, among the world’s top 20 internet user states, China stands at number one, India at third and Pakistan at 20th.
According to the study, in December 2011, Pakistan’s total population was approximately 180 million out of which around 30 million used internet, which accounts for 15.5 percent of the total population of Pakistan. Facebook is the most visited internet site in Pakistan, followed by Google, YouTube, Blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. Pakistan is at 26th in world Facebook users rankings. Currently there are more than six million facebook users in Pakistan. About 51 percent of the six million facebook users from Pakistan belong to the 18-24 age group. Twitter is said to have more than three million users in Pakistan (more than the population of our capital city, Islamabad) and this rate is increasing rapidly. The 140 characters of a Twitter post are powerful beyond its size.
Internet penetration is dramatically increasing in our country as Pakistan Telecommunication Ltd (PTCL) and other telecommunication servers are now offering affordable and speedy internet services. Our involvement and interest in social networking can be judged when the government, particularly Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), was vastly criticised by every field of life in Pakistan when it blocked Twitter for more than eight hours on May 20. Next day, it was a front-page story in mainstream papers with editorials and opinion pieces.
Now the question that arises is what social media does and how it is effective. This new media is effective in many ways; firstly, it provides a platform to people where they can write, share and express their ideas without any fear or compulsion. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to get together and unite for a purpose or a cause. Thirdly, this media gives people an amazing power; to be sociable feels powerful on social media. Fourthly, it is an excellent source of connectivity; one can stay connected with family, friends and the world easily. Just get an internet connection and you are connected with the world. Fifthly, social media is a great forum where one can raise social, political or any other issues and make people and the concerned authorities hear. Sixthly, it informs you well; social media is a sea of information and one can keep one’s self well informed and well educated via these forums. Lastly, it generates and shapes an opinion or policy, the Arab Spring, UK riots and other such events are good examples of this.
It is well known that American candidates use social media to run their election campaigns. Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande too used social media very effectively in the French presidential elections held in April-May this year. Surprisingly, it played a very important role in helping Hollande to win the presidential election.
Today, political parties in Pakistan are also making good use of social media; most of the political parties have official web, facebook and Twitter pages. This shows that they have now recognised the power and significance of this new media. Social networks are the best medium for our political parties to attract and engage their followers and voters. Political parties including the PPP, PTI, PML-N, MQM and others operate their official Twitter, facebook and other social networks to communicate, engage and inform people about their events and policies.
Politicians too have their individual accounts. Imran Khan, Marvi Memon, Bilawal Bhutto, Shahbaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf and others have big fan followings on social forums. This shows their interest to defend their parties and engage with people via social media. However; Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is using social media more effectively and strategically than others. Diplomatic channels and diplomats are not behind in this race; they are actively engaged with their fan followers on social media forums. Some amongst those are Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman and the former ambassador Hussain Haqqani.
It will be not wrong to claim that these forums are playing a very effective and constructive role in our society and in the politics of the country. According to reports, 50 percent of the registered voters are between 18 to 35 years of age; political parties cannot ignore the fact that this segment of the population uses the internet and social networks the most. The one who will attract and engage the followers on social forums will definitely profit in the near future.
Social media is challenging the traditional political patterns and it is introducing new political paradigms. Our political parties have to own and adopt these new practices because social networks will definitely make some difference in future elections, and those who will ignore them may lose.
The writer is a political research analyst in Islamabad and tweets at @shafiqsolang. He can be reached at Shafiqsolangi_ir@hotmail.com