LAHORE: Even though there are 32 million active monthly Facebook users against only 3.5 million Twitters users in Pakistan, hate speech and political campaigning has been recorded at a new high on Twitter.
This was briefed during the launch of a research study, “Electoral Hate speech on Social Media in Pakistan,” conducted by a leading youth development organisation, Bargad, ahead of the 2018 general elections.
The study was part of a Bargad’s project, “Youth Actions for Peaceful Elections” that trained 200 peace champions from ten universities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These peace champions executed 100 social action projects on their campuses and communities, ran social media campaigns and prepared fellow youth for the polls.
The research team consisted of Usman Akhter, Areeba Butt and Faraz Haider, and was led by Minahil Aslam, under the supervision of Iqbal Haider Butt. It monitored and gathered data from about 30,000 social media accounts for three months (April-July 2018) from Twitter and Facebook and explored how social media was facilitating discourses of hate speech and looked how hate speech was being used for election campaigning as well as by political candidates, supporters and influencers.
Data gathering and analysis were carried out on some 20 top Facebook pages, chosen on the basis of their ranking in the country as determined by social media analytics site Social Bakers, with a further narrowing down of selection, solely based on their connection with the elections.
Results of the study showed that photos and videos were the most popular sources of hate speech. From April to July 2018, there has been a gradual increase in this trend as opposed to using of sharing/retweeting and replies/comments.
Allegations and character assassination were the most widespread forms of hate speech followed by religious intolerance and sexism. A lot of hate speech was directed towards sexism reflecting gender imbalance and women were frequently attacked and harshly alleged on social networking sites.
Use of swear words is common and mostly found between the supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) while negative keywords attributed to all political leaders were commonly used by those of rival organisations.
The study validated that hate speech amid election fever is generated by organised on-line individuals networked into groups. It also found that social media accounts that spread hate-speech were publicly operative but had not been taken down.
The study recommends compliance of laws, media regulation and code of conduct, awareness raising and inducting material on hate speech in curriculum, among other measures to mitigate hate speech.