PESHAWAR: The roots of what is now the most politically active party on the internet can be traced back to two people with a cell phone and a camera. Kamran Bangash and Asfandyar launched the official social media page for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2008 and now manage several interactive medium pages on the internet with their very own creative team.
In an interview with The Express Tribune, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Social Media Secretary Kamran Bangash claims they started mobilising people, especially the youth, by sending mobile text messages. Considered the pioneers of PTI’s social media network, a team of 15 young professionals now run the party’s various social media pages without a centralised office.
“The toughest thing was to make the party leadership understand the importance of social media,” said Bangash. He adds the team lacks female members owing to continuous journeys, law and order situation and the Pukhtun culture.
“This is something we do voluntarily. We do not need benefits and have never asked for them,” he said, adding all 15 members are working men or students who support their families at the same time.
“One of our team members, Asfandyar, and I had to skip our annual exams to give live coverage to “Parho aur Zindagi Badlo” – an enrolment drive that covered 356 public-sector schools,” Bangash said, adding 8,000 people around the globe visited the live page.
Bangash recalled that covering the Swabi political rally two years ago was his toughest assignment, since the national and international media was depending on the team to cover the event. He said the only thing they could do was to live stream the address of PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
“As we do not have top-notch resources at our disposal, after covering an event, we look for the nearest place to upload data and we have found internet cafés to be the best places,” said team member Asfandyar.
“The October 30, 2011 Lahore rally, which served as a springboard for PTI before the general elections, took four days to prepare, but in the end our hard work paid off,” said Asfandyar, adding it is difficult to take on such big events simultaneously with their private lives, but they are somehow able to manage. “We travel to far-flung areas for coverage where sometimes there is no electricity, let alone an internet connection, like when we marched to South Waziristan. But we make arrangements and are able to manage,” he said.
The team members claimed they were approached by a political party to run its internet pages on a handsome salary, but they refused the offer.
The party is infamous for its online presence and members are often criticised for online harassment of those who speak or write against the party. The party’s online footprint also misled analysts before the general elections who believed the same would translate into street power.
The team’s central secretary Imran Ghazali said the party follows an online code of conduct and the social media provides a forum to the party’s followers to express their feelings. Moreover, the party’s mammoth online presence was said to have forced the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to follow suit with Maryam Nawaz Sharif making and actively operating a Twitter account to represent the party on social media.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2014.