Pakistani Politics and Exploitation of Social Media

Over the past few days during the build-up to the Pakistani elections and the days after, it has become evident on how social media has been exploited, for your own personal gain. Not to rule out the fact that, social media has indeed been pivotal in doing some sort of campaigning, from all political parties; but the fact of the matter is, that such a platform can easily be abused and exploited. The biggest danger of social media includes the fact that, whether whatever that’s posted on a platform, has been checked for credibility or not; whether whatever that has been posted, is the out-and-out truth or not.

Social media platforms are a great way to connect with people, to spread awareness and news and to exchange ideas etc. But along with the benefits of using social media platforms and indulging in social networking, comes few disadvantages as well. Those disadvantages or flaws in the social media ideology are applicable in all situations, especially becoming evident during Pakistani elections 2013.

There is a saying, “the way you use something, determines how good or bad it is for you”. One of the biggest flaws of this amazing idea – which we call social networking, is that, you can literally post anything on it. The downside of it is, it doesn’t matter what you post is, true or not. You can make up things, post them online and no one will question the authenticity of what you are saying. You are literally cheating yourself and others, out of the truth. This leads to a lot of things, including people spreading around what you say to others and the biggest thing, actually ‘believing’ what you say.

Mahrukh, a Twitter user from Pakistan says that, “everyone feels the need to be heard and what better way to be heard, than on a social networking platform; where you get to say what you want.” The logic of that statement can be applied, not only to people of Pakistan, but also elsewhere. She further adds that, “there are too many disadvantages to using social networking as well. One is the fact that whatever we say is getting saved, and maybe used against us one day. It promotes attention seekers, who instead of getting rid of their habit, get further engrossed in to it, because on social media they do get attention one way or the other.”

On the subject of information sharing on social media networks she says “too much information sharing is a curse anyway. People sometimes share few things which shouldn’t be shared in public which leads to grave consequences. For example, once this person admitted to a crime, in a Facebook status. What led to his arrest was the visual evidence for everyone to see; a written confession on a social media network.”

What Mahrukh said, has a lot of weight. With Pakistan’s first democratic transition of government almost complete, social media has empowered Pakistanis to actively participate in the election discussions, campaign for the party they support and voice their opinions on social media. This had never happened before, because social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter weren’t that popular before in Pakistan. However, the dynamics of it all has been changed by the popularity of Twitter and Facebook. Notwithstanding, there has been negative implications of Pakistanis actively discussing politics on social networking platforms too.

Unlike the past, where a Pakistani only got to know about the elections through conventional media and the internet; this time around, the people had the option of the social media platforms. Social media platforms had become involved, with politicians, news outlets giving out information, campaigning and gathering support. Not only that, people actually were more involved this time around, because they could interact with the politicians, gain news more quickly and share news. The sharing part is very important, because in a participatory culture, you don’t only gain news and information, but you also share and interact.

Many Pakistanis actually participated in the election 2013 activities, by taking photos and making videos of speeches, gatherings etc. of their respective parties. They also wrote articles and voiced their thoughts regarding a multitude of matters relating to the election, on social media; in a way, becoming a pseudo-journalist and participating in what is being termed as – alternative participatory journalism. While, this is a good thing and this kind of journalism – which is separate from mainstream journalism – allows people to discuss serious topics etc. it also has a lot of downsides.

People posted a lot of information on Twitter mainly – and even Facebook, during the run up to the election and afterwards. But was most of the information factual and true? Unfortunately it is not the case and this is a big danger to using social media. People don’t know the credibility of the information and just post things on Twitter etc. In the race of being the ‘first’ one to provide information, people make up information, post incomplete information or exaggerate the truth. In all three cases, there is no credibility or truth.

In a sea of information provided by the Pakistani Twitter users, where a lot of information was either made up, not true etc. it was hard to distinguish the truth from the lies. The problem is, where a lot of information is false and repeatedly shared between people, a majority of the people stop questioning the amount of truth behind what’s shared and blindly believe it. When that is the case, if something true is shared, people start doubting whether it is true or not and deem it as false. The lies become the truth and the truth gets overshadowed by all the false information it surrounds.

During the elections, people shared a lot of information on Twitter and Facebook. While some of it was true, a lot of it was false. People had started to spread false information, to strengthen their political party’s image and at the same time, taint the image and reputation of their major opposition. A lot of propaganda was going on and an attacking campaign was carried out on the social networking platforms, against other political parties and its supporters. Not only that, but there was ‘trolling’ occurring from all sides; mostly being done by the supporters of the party hell bent on disrupting the operations and image of their opposing party and supporters.

A big example is the making of false twitter accounts by supporters of the political party, PTI. This is one party, whose supporters have been involved the most in these kinds of activities on social media, although, it can also be said that other parties and their supporters were ‘also’ involved to a certain extent. PTI bears the brunt of the onslaught of objections and complaints against them, because its leadership and supporters are the ones who were the most involved in spreading propaganda, involving fake and bogus information online.

One such way of doing that, is the making of fake Twitter accounts by PTI supporters, of well-known and prominent Pakistani journalists and then posting biased anti-PMLN tweets, to defame the party and its supporters. An example is the making of fake Twitter accounts of the journalist Saleem Khan Safi. A PTI supporter or ‘Insafian’ as they like to call themselves made a fake Twitter account of Saleem Khan Safi @saleemkhansafi1 and started posting tweets on behalf of PTI; also, such tweets whose objective was to malign PMLN leadership and also, propagate fake news about PMLN. This gave a bad image to Saleem Khan Safi and made him look like a biased journalist, in favour of PTI.

Saleem Safi himself clarified on television in various programs that that isn’t his Twitter account and his actual Twitter account is @saleemkhansafi. He also posted various tweets regarding the matter on Twitter, because people were copying tweets from the fake account and spreading them on Twitter and Facebook, thinking they were actually written by the journalist himself, when they weren’t. The most catastrophic thing was, even after repeatedly being clarified by the journalist and various other people, supporting PMLN and other parties; PTI supporters kept on believing the tweets to be the truth and not only that, kept on sharing them forward.

The various accounts of Saleem Khan Safi:
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Apart from the one in the middle, rest of the two are clearly counterfeit, since only one can be the actual account. People got infuriated on this act by PTI trolls and condemned this act online, by posting on Twitter and Facebook.

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Even PTI supporters – some of the intelligent ones out of the lot, who didn’t blindly believe the false information being propagated and didn’t spread it around – condemned the fake accounts of Saleem Safi and the tweets that were being posted using them, to praise PTI.

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PTI trolls didn’t stop at just Saleem Safi, but made fake accounts of various other people like, Talat Hussain, Dr. AQ Khan etc. Here’s the real account of Talat Hussain, with his tweet condemning the action of PTI supporters.

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One of the dramas started by the PTI trolls online for their twisted needs that misled not only the PTI fraternity and supporters, but also the leadership, is the creation of a fake article maligning PMLN and accusing them of paying off people, to rig the elections in one constituency; when it wasn’t true at all. It was supposedly written by a well-known journalist Javed Choudhry, but was later found out to be a fake article written and spread by PTI trolls for propaganda purposes.

In the case of the fake article the damage done by it, didn’t just stay in the online world. Not only did PTI supporters read that article, but also PTI leadership and they actually believed that article to be the absolute truth, without verifying it and without checking for credibility. PTI leadership is ‘apparently’ full of educated individuals but I guess having degrees doesn’t mean you are educated or you have the capacity to use your mind. Without checking whether it was true or not and actually written by Javed Choudhry or not, the article started getting quoted by PTI supporters and members of the leadership.

Fauzia Kasuri a well-known Pakistani politician & the former President of Women’s Wing of PTI came on a talk-show ‘Off the Record’ on ARY News and quoted something from the fake article. One would wonder a well-educated woman would be well informed too and know that the article she is quoting from has fabricated information; but that wasn’t the case. When she was challenged by the talk-show host, an overzealous Fauzia Kasuri asked the host to call Javed Choudhry to clarify, having astounding confidence which was later bitterly shattered.

Javed Choudhry on record, in front of Fauzia Kasuri, the host and the thousands of people watching the program said that, he never wrote such an article and never posted anything about it on Facebook or Twitter. He said that he was being cheated, as his name was being used for ulterior motives by unsaid persons to spread propaganda. Right there and then, Fauzia Kasuri’s reaction to Javed Choudhry’s confession was remarkable. Instead of admitting to her blunder, she kept arguing that she didn’t know that the article was a sham and she shouldn’t be blamed.

Here comes the point of social media responsibility. Pakistani people that use social media – not only limited to the masses that support PTI – should have some sort of sense of responsibility when sharing content on the Internet. Like in the case of the fake article being spread around, which reached PTI leadership and they actually - without checking - thought it was true and started quoting from it; in the process discrediting themselves as honest politicians and people. You shouldn’t be irresponsible about the content you share, because you never know how or when your content will be seen, read and shared forward by people. People should remember that the pen is mightier than the sword and what you write on social media, leaves an impact.

Whatever you write, influences people. Now, it might be that your target audience would be segmented or you might have a wide reach and appeal; but written words are read, especially those on social media networks. A lot of rumours were being spread around and still are being spread on Twitter and Facebook, regarding affairs related to the elections. One such rumour that spread like wildfire just before the Election Day was due to a media institution’s fault, which was later circulated by PTI supporters on Twitter and Facebook. It was the issue of a tiger.

Apparently, a tiger had passed away while at Maryam Nawaz’s political rally (she is the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, the President of PMLN) because of heat and exhaustion. This news was reported by DAWN News, which is supposed to be a really credible source of news and information in Pakistan. Everyone – not only limited to PTI supporters – started tweeting about the incident and hurling insults etc. towards PMLN and its supporters; saying things like PMLN are inhumane, they deserve to die, where are the animal rights groups? What is happening in Pakistan! While the sentiment can be agreed upon to a certain extent that live animals shouldn’t be used in political rallies, lies related to the incident cannot be tolerated.

The next day DAWN News re-published the article saying the tiger is not dead; it was suffering from a cough and was taken to the Veterinary Hospital. After getting injected, it was discharged as it was deemed fit and normal. The sad bit is, even after DAWN News published the truth, people on Twitter and Facebook kept quoting the old article and kept diffusing lies throughout the social media networks that the tiger had died. No one was ready to believe that the tiger was alive, because there was so much false information and lies around them. People’s minds were so infused with bitterness towards PMLN that they ‘wanted’ to believe that such an inhumane act was carried out towards the animal and that it must have died.

The truth finally got a chance to appear after a call was made to the Veterinary Hospital’s Officer in Charge who on record said that no such incident had happened and that the tiger was alive. International media stepped in to help things a bit, after a freelance journalist based in Pakistan working for the BBC, went and investigated the issue and confidently claimed that the tiger was alive and well. Maryam Nawaz herself tweeted that the tiger is alive and wasn’t even at her rally, since she wasn’t conducting one on the day the tiger was supposedly taken to the Vet. She later further clarified, that the tiger belonged to a supporter of PMLN and was alive.

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People were quick to speak out against these rumours as well, in the list of which the BBC journalist was also included.

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These were some of the big examples of social media exploitation and lack of social media responsibility, during the Pakistani elections and afterwards; but there are many small examples as well. One of them is the everyday rumours that trolls broadcast on social media networks, to brain wash people and mislead them. Some of the examples include the announcement of the death of Altaf Hussain, which caused uproar in the MQM fraternity on Twitter; that led even Ali Raza Abidi – newly elected MNA and member of MQM – to tweet against it.

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MQM fraternity itself was involved in a big trolling incident on Twitter, because of their hatred against the political party PTI. They trended the hashtag #WeRejectPTI and very soon, it was trending at the number one spot in Pakistan trends. MQM supporters posted all sort of tweets and obscenities against PTI, PTI leadership and their supporters; which caused PTI supporters to react by making a hashtag in return, #WeRejectMQM and hurling curses at them.
 

Another very recent rumour that was going around the circles was that Najam Sethi (the current caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab) was going to be given the post of Ambassador to the USA. Everyone was talking about it on Twitter and Facebook, but this rumour proved to be a lie as well, because Najam Sethi himself tweeted that he was nowhere close to being interested in such a position.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, it doesn’t have a Cyber Defamation Law, which can prevent trolls from posting false and incorrect information online, regarding different people or political parties and that can stop them from defaming people. Pakistan is years behind and seriously lagging compared to other world countries, when it comes to laws etc. and getting proper justice regarding something. In Pakistan, people are barely punished for defamation, libel and slander, let alone cyber defamation, libel and slander. People get away with saying so many malicious things about one another in the media, face to face and that’s such a pity.

With people like Fauzia Kasuri, a well-educated high level politician of PTI and Arif Alvi, reading fake news on social media networks and then forwarding them on to their supporters; it is high time to think of some solution and take an action against this exploitation of social media. Arif Alvi, a respected and educated PTI official, from time to time re-tweeted Saleem Safi’s fake account (even after being told by various journalists and people, that it was a fake account) and also, tweeted a link to the false news by DAWN. After finding out the truth about the tiger, it was his social media responsibility to delete that tweet, so his followers aren’t misled, but he didn’t do that. Shireen Mazari, another official of PTI, shared a video of NA-250 as evidence for their rigging claim at NA-125, but that was far from the truth.

When politicians on Twitter and Facebook are going to spread rumours and false information, what can be expected of the people? Half of the problem is the sharing of false information that happened by Pakistanis on Twitter and Facebook during the elections and afterwards, but the other half of the problem is the fact that, people are gullible and na├»ve enough to believe in the false information and actually share it forward; even after repeatedly being told that the information they are sharing is false. Like in the case of Saleem Safi’s fake account, people were and are confused and majority still believe that the fake account is the real one; while the real one is the fake one.

Dear Pakistanis, please do not cheat yourself out of the truth; do not believe in fake news and information being relayed to you through fake accounts. Do not be so susceptible to brain-washing and propaganda. Find out the credibility and the truth and then believe in it and share it forward. Like the say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Either be completely ignorant or know everything completely. Don't talk without knowing the truth.

Comments

  1. Comprehensive Article. Good Work!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So true! everything I have been noticing for the last two years. Extremely frustrating to see, how easily PTI's stupid, pity propaganda is fooling, these so called educated people. PTI leadership is fully involve this propaganda, I know personally.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am shocked as well Samar, how these so called educated people have been brainwashed to such an extent, that they seem like educated illiterates now, or in Urdu like they say parhe likhe jahil.

    ReplyDelete

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