Pakistan’s social media revolution

Published: June 12, 2011

The writer is US consul-general in Karachi.

Pakistan’s first-ever international social media summit, held this weekend in Karachi, was a big success because of the energy and creativity of its participants. Top bloggers, Twitter users, and other social media mavens flocked to it from all over Pakistan. They were joined by their counterparts from across the globe, including Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, and America. Social media really does create a global village and it was a pleasure to see so many of its distinguished citizens. I was struck by the talent, imagination, commitment of the young bloggers. Among them I met committed visionaries that will help realise the vast potential of the people of Pakistan.

Perhaps showing the generation gap, I did not know that Pakistan has such a lively and active blogging community, with over three million citizen-journalists freely reporting on virtually every topic under the sun. Pakistan has one of the fastest-growing Facebook and Twitter-using populations in the world, with over four million Facebook users. Remarkably, the per capita internet access in Pakistan is between 10-15 per cent of the total population — more than double that of neighbouring India. Using even the most conservative estimates, 20 million Pakistanis are regularly online, or the equivalent of the population of four Singapores.

Pakistan enjoys tremendous freedom of information and online expression. As a representative of the United States, I am keenly aware of the vibrancy of that free speech every time I log in to my computer or pick up a newspaper. Although a bit bruised sometimes, I welcome it! By amplifying the diversity of voices, social media is making life a richer experience for us all. And this is possible because Pakistanis are using their freedom of expression every day, online. Blogging is reinforcing the backbone of democracy – freedom of speech – a freedom that is enshrined in the US Constitution.

In Pakistan, the freedom of the press was earned over time, through the sacrifices of its people, especially the sacrifices of those in the media community. Journalists and bloggers now play a central role in the effort to institutionalise these hard won freedoms.

We must never forget, the many journalists who have been killed or injured as they sought to report on the challenges facing us today. They take extraordinary risks to enlighten us with the truth. Nobody embodied this commitment more than Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was senselessly murdered trying to pursue this truth. All of us are diminished by his passing. But, there is no doubt that his work will continue and others will pick up the baton and carry on. It is up to each of us to honour his legacy and do all we can to support press freedom as a fundamental right to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. Blog on.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2011.

Reader Comments (22)

  • M Ali Khan
    Jun 12, 2011 - 2:13AM

    “Pakistan enjoys tremendous freedom of information and online expression. ”

    quite true….unless of course you are a Baloch nationalist given how PEMRA blocks many of their blogs and websites routinely.Recommend

  • Blithe
    Jun 12, 2011 - 3:33AM

    Stop sounding so patronizing!

    Pakistani media had traditionally always
    been more independent and anti-establishment
    compared to india’s – and it still is.

    This lively media is there not because but in spite of US.
    Remember when dictator Musharraf ransacked a TV channel ?
    Why didn’t you write a protest article then ?
    Was it because Musharraf was Washington’s
    poster boy at the time?

    In any case , it does not behoove a country
    conducting illegal drone strikes to write such sanctimonious
    stuff!Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Jun 12, 2011 - 3:58AM

    Syed Saleem Shahzad lives on in all of our memories. His death is not going to be in vain!Recommend

  • sundar
    Jun 12, 2011 - 4:41AM

    A positive news about Pakistan atlast. Especially ‘double that of India’ would have made Pakistanis proud and happy. Recommend

  • jamil
    Jun 12, 2011 - 10:26AM

    very intersting articleRecommend

  • Jun 12, 2011 - 10:37AM

    The positive and impressive statistics of this report can easily indicate the strength of this medium. Sadly one often sees only the negative picture and most shared stories and blogged topics are based upon some bomb blast or some random act of voliance. My observation on social media is that most of this is done with some hidden motives behind. Everyone is trying to blame the other party and rather then uniting to find the solution there seems to be hoplessness in most cases. Recommend

  • Jun 12, 2011 - 10:38AM

    Another vital reason for the growing strength of social media in terms of intellectual scale is the fact that its a convenient and comparatively safer medium for venting out ones opinions. Being a part of a society that does not allow much free speech in daily life, you are bound to hold back your tongue at many points. With internet comes the immense liberty of sharing your thoughts and views which is why Pakistanis for this case tend to be more expressive on online forums.Recommend

  • Surprised
    Jun 12, 2011 - 10:55AM

    Remarkably, the per capita internet access in Pakistan is between 10-15 per cent of the total population — more than double that of neighbouring India.
    hahaaa……..
    Nothing in pakistani press can end without a comparison with india and self glorification.
    In fact most western writers know this fact and use it to make their rubbish articles attractive in pakistan.
    Using even the most conservative estimates, 20 million Pakistanis are regularly online, or the equivalent of the population of four Singapores.
    Now if this is so then why don’t i see many pakistanis commenting on online portals like tribune????
    Food for thought !!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • SomeGuy
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:04AM

    If Pakistan has such respect for freedom of expression why are sites which are critical of religion (Islam in particular) banned? Facebook was banned because a few people on there started a Draw Muhammad Day.

    Let’s not even get started on the blasphemy law…Recommend

  • Begum Zaib-unissah Hamza
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:15AM

    I wish the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC would use social media to connect American with Pakistanis. The embassy seems to be limited and satisfied to control their feeble attempts to market the vast talents from Pakistan. Most Americans thirst for information about Pakistan so they can view a better image of Pakistan other than the major networks that only mention Pakistan when the news is negative and rating gathering.
    Many Americans are viewing the Coke Studio Episode 4 and adore the fusion of music not with standing the impressive talent in voices and musician and where is the Pakistani embassy in trying to market this cultural talent…..absent as usual.
    Instead of hosting cake bakes and fashion shows they need to host and promote on the west coast where many Pakistani Americans reside and they could do it with social networking, but will they?Recommend

  • ASQ
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:20AM

    @surprised tribune isn’t a popular site he was talking about facebook and twitter which most people use!!similarly majority people don’t comment at all.Recommend

  • tungalahore
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:22AM

    mr m ali khan just like the united states blocks the websites of alqaeda propaganda in the same way baloch natinalistic movement is one such organization which needs to be blockedRecommend

  • Begum Zaib-unissah Hamza
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:40AM

    @ Surprised Before you go spouting ignorant posts. comparing Facebook and Express Tribune is like comparing apples and oranges. Do take sometime to understand the definition of social media then come outside and play with the people who are educated in this forum.
    Express Tribune might not enjoy the Facebook membership yet but it is growing and providing an excellent forum for different view to be exchanged although at time I wonder if some of the guest-people who post have any formal knowledge in basic communication & comprehending facts and being visibly able to articulate manner a coherent idea.! Recommend

  • Zed
    Jun 12, 2011 - 1:20PM

    @Sundar, there is so much positive in Pakistan that NEVER gets reported. Recommend

  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Jun 12, 2011 - 5:43PM

    There is, indeed, an exciting social media mindset campaign taking root here in Pakistan which, in my view, will increasingly become the more prominent theater of war on terror and hopefully a platform for rescuing Islam from the jaws of ignorance.

    As an aside, I am also of the view that Musharraf’s departure was likely hastened by the pervasion of text messaging services in the country.Recommend

  • Jun 12, 2011 - 6:38PM

    Many Pakistani writers and intellectuals fought for press freedom during the elected and unelected regimes in Pakistan. This is a reality that most and many writers and intellectuals who fought for the press freedom in Pakistan were progressive, marxists and very liberal minded and they never compromised with the army dictators like General Ayub Khan, General Zia, General Mushraf and the Bhuttos too.

    But the extreme right wing writers, journalists and intellectuals who wrote in Urdu and English press always made money in the name of ‘Pakistani Patriotism’. The army and the right wing press always got together against India and Pakistani politicians and did their best to propagate against them. I am glad after 50 years now in this current Pakistani political reality, right wing press is not dead but struggling to understand the meaning of independent press and the culture of press freedom in Pakistan. Recommend

  • Jun 12, 2011 - 6:42PM

    This is correct: Most of the website belonging to Baloch nationalists are routinely blocked. Many bloggers come from Karachi and some from Lahore and Islamabad with the sprinkling of them coming from places like Hyderabad and Faislabad and Abbotabad, etc. So you can see that the distribution is not even at all and the issues faced by majority of the poor never gets reported. Similarly, reporting from Quetta and Khuzdar, main centers of Baloch Nationalist Movements, is almost non existent.

    Alright, we have a freedom which is seldom seen by Indian and Israeli bloggers with respect to harsh criticism of army and politicians, but when it comes to freedom of expression by the most Balochis, we are silent. And even in this conference not a single blogger pointed this out, as per my knowledge. Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jun 12, 2011 - 6:50PM

    @Begum Zaib-unissah Hamza:

    No Madam, certainly not much formal education and it shows! Some of the comments here and on other sites makes me shudder. Some of the comments are excellent as well.

    On a related point, I have always said that we need to stop comparing ourselves to India on every matter and have higher standards. Look at Latin America, progressive Muslim countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia (the largest Muslim country in the world), the rest of Asia, especially China, and so on. We even have a thing or two to learn from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Read how they manage their economies and societies.

    All you have to do is type the name in Google and/or Wikipedia. For a more technical view, go to web-sites such as the IMF and World Bank. It is all there.

    Today’s generation is hugely fortunate to have a limitless canvas of information and knowledge at their finger-tips.

    Finally, great article. Recommend

  • Asghar Baloch
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:35PM

    Unfortunately, a vast majority of social media members and bloggers belong to upper middle or upper class and it is more an intra- class interaction at best. The overwhelming mainstream of people from lower classes is still not the part of this new revolution due to digital and medium divides. As long as they are not in reach, gap will not be plugged and hence a true and genuine interaction will not take place and we continue to delegitimize each other life styles and social ideas.Recommend

  • has
    Jun 13, 2011 - 1:41PM

    agree with asghar baloch Recommend

  • Zara Khan
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:07PM

    Was life better or worse,spiritually.morally,socially,monetarily without the modern time ‘internet.facilitation?Answer lies in it.Recommend

  • Jul 24, 2011 - 11:15AM

    Social media is a reality not body can ignore. However, due to language issues, most Pakistanies are not using social media that effectively. For instance, how many know that jobs and business oppoortunties can be found via faceboo, twitter and linkedin? Most corporate leaders do not use social media at all. They can bring a lot of change in the society, but general commetns is “I do not have time”! Considering this, I published an ebook on social media which can be downloaded from this link http://www.box.net/shared/nyuymlx71ob450zdydro

    Hammad Siddiqui
    Capacity Building Expert, Trainer, Change Leader
    http://hammadsiddiquiblog.com

    Recommend

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