The two-day Social Media Mela kicked off Friday at Avari Towers, the second such international social media conference to be held in the country. Jointly organised by PeaceNiche and the United States consulates in Lahore and Islamabad, the event aims to foster dialogue between journalists, entrepreneurs, activists and writers of India and Pakistan. Nine people have flown in from India to participate. The conference discusses the utility of social media as a means to by-pass the imposition of rigid state control on person-to-person contact.
US Consul General to Karachi William Martin inaugurated the event. “We wanted to focus on what we think is one of the most energetic and important relationships – the one between the bloggers of India and Pakistan.” He said that there was nothing more important than people of two countries getting to know and talk to each other to dispel myths and misgivings. “I pick up the newspapers every day and I get the impression that Pakistanis don’t care for the United States. Yet my experience here is that over two years, I have never met one Pakistani that has been anything but warm, welcoming and friendly.” He added that Pakistanis may disagree with him on policy but he always has a positive experience with them on an individual level. “I think social media is going to have a huge impact in rural areas that can really use both attention and information. It is people like you in this room that are going to have an incredible impact in changing the conditions of millions of people.”
Now you see me, now you don’t
Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law seemed to manifest itself in the earlier half of the event, which started an hour after the scheduled time. Some participants wondered whether they had walked into the wrong hall as they listened to some of The Beatles’ classic tunes, which the organisers played on the sound system to make the wait a more tolerable. The people at the event were hit by a double whammy when it was announced that Barkha Dutt, the managing editor of NDTV 24/7, would not be at the event since she could not get a visa on time. The rest of the event went on much more smoothly and participants were treated to some very informative sessions, including one on viral videos and the use of social media in the classroom. All was well for organiser Sabeen Mahmud as well, who got to shake the stress away on stage by dancing with none other than the “Wadera ka Beta” himself, Ali Pir Gul.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.