Politics and the power of social media | Pakistan Today

Politics and the power of social media

  • Reach of the information superhighway

What has kept the 2016 United States presidential polls still resonating in our minds? The out-of-the-blue election of Donald J. Trump, a businessman-turned-television personality, as the 45th president, or the alleged interference of Russian government? The latter has still kept the dynamics of world politics quite fluttered. If analysed closely the whole issue was about Russia trying to kindle political instability in the US by damaging presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Russian involvement through social media and internet trolls is not a conspiracy theory; it is an open secret. The Daily Beast revealed back in August 2016 that articles fabricated by Russian propagandists were popularised by social media. The Guardian went a step further and reported in November 2016 that the most stridulous Internet supporters of Trump were actually paid Russian propagandists who promoted thousands of trolls.

Social media, therefore, is now considered to be a major pillar on which lies the burden of decision-making. A space that was first created by print and, later, electronic media to emphasise and ensure their importance and role in reaching important conclusions to serve country and nation’s better interests has now been bagged by social media.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz in his essay titled ‘National Art and Culture’ aptly explains that although cultural problems are not pertinent to different forms of arts alone but the latter do constitute a fundamental part of the socio-economic problems characteristic to every society.

Putting forward a name and taking it back after approval is highly condemnable, but basing your decision on opinions obtained from social media platforms is rather remorseful

“Art thus has an important dual political role”, he states. “Internally it holds up the mirror to a nation or society and helps it to discover its own image and its own personality. Externally it provides the most potent means to establish the identity of a nation in the international confraternity.”

In other words, all forms of art, including print media, entertainment industry and social media, are responsible for identifying the problems that exist and persist in a society and proposing their implementable solutions. While doing this, the respective medium has to take up the additional task of nipping the evil in the bud and ensuring that the evil is contained and not propagated. This is exactly what our media has failed to do. Another baggage that social media, in particular, has to carry is related to the ability of anyone and everyone to post anything and everything. And this is the biggest hurdle in nipping the evil because the bud is too extensive to be dealt with. This, in turn, puts a huge question mark on the authenticity of decisions one makes based on opinions procured from social media platforms in lieu of facts obtained from credible sources.

Imran Khan’s political party has lately fallen in this trap and that, too, twice. One incident proves how foolish it could be of someone to get influenced by reflections cast by random people on forums like Facebook and Twitter, as in the aforementioned case of the 2016 US presidential elections. The other however, iterated and reinstated our faith in this form of medium because of which we are convinced to believe that social media, like any other medium such as print media and even elections, for that matter, invites opinions from people belonging to all mind-sets including good and bad, right and wrong. In fact, what this medium has actually taught us is that it is not necessary to always have a right and wrong; there is nothing wrong in having many rights.

What we witnessed in Punjab over nominating caretaker chief minister is shameful. Putting forward a name and taking it back after approval is highly condemnable, but basing your decision on opinions obtained from social media platforms is rather remorseful. This was one incident. The second one received appreciation from all quarters as Khan expelled convicted rapist Farooq Bandial from PTI against a background of receiving backlash from social media. The two events are contrary to each other, creating confusion whether or not to blindly follow this particular source of information. The most rational solution is to value only those opinions which can be traced back to facts. This was the case in the second incident wherein Farooq Bandial was a rapist and had been convicted for his crimes back in 1979. However, the dynamics were absolutely reversed in the former one as Khan withdrew Nasir Mahmood Khosa’s name on subjective viewpoints opined by random people, a situation in which no reality emanates certain perspectives.

Social media is, indeed, powerful. It has compelled the Chief Justice to take notice of Shah Hussain’s acquittal in Khadija Siddiqui stabbing case. It has made a faction people realise how important it is to give religious minorities their due rights. It has awakened the conscience of hundreds of users through video clips, photographs and written posts. And it is this very power of social media which is worrisome as not all the information circulating on it is verified and true. The fallout extends from the fact that we all are living in an age where spilling across social media everyone’s two cents on different situations and happenings occurring around the world has become more of a cultural norm than responsibility and most of these, unfortunately, being shaped out of ignorance. It has given voice to voiceless people but certain voices are just noise and should not be heard.

Therefore, as Roxane Gay, an American professor and writer, says, “Social media is something of a double-edged sword. At its best, social media offers unprecedented opportunities for marginalised people to speak and bring much needed attention to the issues they face. At its worst, social media also offers ‘everyone’ an unprecedented opportunity to share in collective outrage without reflection.” Thus it is the adjudicator’s job to take valid influence from it as too much of undue mastery is incapable of serving good.