While the hype about the Lahore High Court banning Facebook seems to have died down for the time being, one can’t help but wonder how big a catastrophe would it be if the ban did settle in?
We live in a postmodern era where social structures are not only fluid, but diffusive enough to the extent that we have created what sociologist Manuel Castells terms, a ‘network society’, which is supported by a ‘network economy’. In an age of hyper-globalisation, our entire lives are conducted on mechanisms that virtually connect us in virtual communities that then manifest themselves as real, lived communities and vice versa. Facebook being the most glaring testimony to the fact; the portal has metamorphosed into a lifeline for not only testing the veracity of one’s social relations, but as a medium for debate and sharing of ideas along with marketing and conducting business.
In the last month, Pakistan ranked no. 25 on the Facebook list, nonetheless its penetration is within only 2.89 per cent of the population. Yet for that percentage of the urban educated populace, Facebook is critical to their social and economic lives.
An upcoming public relations and marketing company Kaleidoscope relies entirely on Facebook to market itself, “It’s a direct link to the people who have ‘liked’ or appreciated your product,” says Suleiman Qureishi, the director of Kaleidoscope. “You are able to reach out to the ‘real market’ this way. These are not some random people but people you personally know and are connected to. Hence, it’s the most direct, targeted and efficient way to reach to your clients.” Qureishi’s claims are supplemented by event management firm JnS3. “I don’t have to physically invite someone to an event. So we save on costs for postal service and printing invites,” says Sana Bhatti at JnS3, who conducted the entire launch of the retail brand Uth Oye! through Facebook.
So a ban cuts effectively at the heart of not only these small and upcoming businesses, but also established companies that rely heavily on social networking to keep up to date with industry events and happenings. “Facebook has long evolved from a social tool to a media tool,” asserts Qureishi. “In fact, a large section of the populace, especially those of a certain age and income bracket, only use it for brand building.” At Uth Oye, Babar Rashid Khan says that, “Using social media as our main channel of marketing, means we need to constantly innovate, as every day more people are coming up in the same field as you are and you can actually see it with your own eyes.”
An aid for artists
With a worsening security situation in the country, Facebook is one of the few sites for musicians to promote their music. Hence artists that depend wholly on social network sites to promote their work, such as musician Abbas Ali Khan, have been vociferously vocal about the impending ban. “Closing Facebook will be a huge blow as artists who depend on social media networks for the promotion of their music and for interacting with their fans, will no longer be able to do so,” says Khan. “I would request organisations like the Association of Music Professionals of Pakistan to wake up and raise their voice against this stupid decision.”
As many stakeholders have pointed out, a ban will change nothing since portals like Twitter will take Facebook’s place and the battle shall continue on a new virtual front. As Qureishi points out, “If people are old enough to be influenced, they are, by default, old enough to make a sensible decision.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.