Historically, movements against dictatorial or democratic regimes in a region were made possible due to formation of underground groups, propaganda through different banned newspapers and seizure of radio stations. Thomas Paine's pamphlet “Common Sense”, published in 1776, stimulated the colonists during American Revolution and became one of the most-read publications at that time. Its message was spread through readings in taverns and coffee shops. John Adams later said: "Without the pen of the author of “Common Sense”, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."
The role of traditional media emerged as a source to get the word about protests and gatherings, but it was time consuming and mostly hijacked by people with their own political motives. Year 2011 has been considered as a year of numerous revolutions in the Arab world that have resulted in ousting strong dictatorial regimes. The role of social media in these movements has been very prominent and it has been praised, applauded and also criticised at different spheres. The question is how big a role Twitter or Facebook groups played in toppling over the governments of dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
The idea of social revolution is of great value for the investors with high stakes in social media. Platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are being used to bring a so-called “Political Revolution” in Pakistan. In countries like Pakistan, where only a small portion of a population of 180 million people have ever used the Internet, the question is not if but how could digital and social media possibly become the conduit for tens of thousands of protesters?
Pakistan is amongst one of the most populous countries of the world having more than 60 percent of its population between the age of 18 and 30. The majority of young generation has been found engaged in the usage of social media networks. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is the biggest example of success of social media in creating an influence on the younger generation of this country. Only sometime ago, PTI was considered as a nonexistent party in the political hemisphere of Pakistan. However, they had huge support in social media.
Technological advances like cell phones, video cameras, blog posts and Facebook, in conjunction with more traditional media outlets like TV channels and newspapers, have created the circumstances for effective information dissemination for PTI. PTI’s jalsa in Karachi was watched live on internet by more than 30,000 users through live streaming, tweeted more than half a million times, shared on Facebook for thousands of times, googled and uploaded on YouTube and many other social network websites by hundreds and thousands of respective users. The YouTube channel of PTI was uploading videos of all the PTI speakers and those videos were further shared at multiple rates at other networks around the globe.
It is rumoured that the jalsa involved a huge amount of investment on advertisement through nontraditional modes, some say around 30 million Pakistani rupees were spent on arranging this successful show. Unlike traditional media, digital media allowed for a non-hierarchical, collective communication. Digital media has provided the outlet for free expression that government monitored traditional media did not. Of course, no distinct tweet or Facebook group obligated these thousands of people to attend the jalsa.
Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social media networks are the new shape of journalism. Certainly, they are the most effective means of communication. In this fast-moving era, it may already be time to settle the question of the Internet's role in present Pakistani political revolution. The Facebook pages of PTI, PML(N), PPP and other political parties have attracted thousands of people. Similarly, updates of Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif have been followed and further shared by thousands of Facebook users.
Social media has become a substitute for traditional media, much of which in Pakistan is state-controlled. It's too soon to know how the “political tsunami” will turn out, including whether virtual networks of people can prevail over more traditionally organised groups. But still, it's already clear that social media via the Web is unprecedented and unpredictable. For authoritarian leaders used to controlling media and events, time and technology are not on their side. It can lead to the improbable rise of leaders who otherwise might never have had a shot. It has helped in gathering of large groups in a short period of time.
These technological developments will be used as an expanded set of tools for the tasks that have always been and remain the most crucial to activists: amassing support, communicating with like-minded people and spreading the word. The tactics haven't changed. It's just that the available channels of communication have expanded. The future of the movements around the world will help in determining the role of social media and vice a versa. The necessary legislation to prevent the misuse of social media is the need of the hour and the governments will have to set up measures to channelise the growth of this medium.
The writer can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @Alethargicsoul