KARACHI: The role social media and the internet are playing in Pakistan is undeniable. More and more young Pakistanis are joining Twitter and Facebook and participating in heated debates online – but should these discussions be monitored and controlled?
These concerns were tossed back and forth between journalists, bloggers and activists at the launch of the report “New Media vs Old Politics”, a 69-page research project undertaken by Marcus Michaelsen, a PhD candidate at the University of Erfurt (Germany).
The report, launched by a German political foundation, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which has been working in Pakistan for more than 20 years, is the first exploratory research on the use of the internet, social media and the subsequent process of democratisation in Pakistan.
The general secretary of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Dr Arif Alvi, was among the commentators at the launch. Highlighting his party’s role in using social media tools to connect with people, he said: “I used to attend party meetings with my laptop in hand, and was ridiculed for being disconnected from people at the grassroots level.”
The internet also allows the PTI to campaign for “peanuts”, which is also more effective than traditional politicking with rallies and street campaigns.
As Dr Alvi’s brief concluded, a participant levelled criticism at PTI “trolls” or people who post inflammatory comments online. He said that some “low IQ” online visitors on PTI forums frequently post abusive remarks which defeat the party’s ideology. Dr Alvi replied that these spaces are monitored, and that he once personally deleted derogatory remarks about a TV anchor at her behest.
Other participants noted that while abuse and trolling is common online, web forums are important platforms for discussion and debate, something that was not possible earlier.
Also raised was the two-week Facebook court ban in response to public outrage over a competition on the social networking site that encouraged people to post drawings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), Jehan Ara, was critical of censorship and highlighted the need for legislation.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2011.