It was also transpired that the owner of a fake account, Umme Hareem, a feminine name, was a male. Not just a male but a male doctor, Muhammad Zulqarnain, working as a General Surgeon in Bahawal Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur. Reportedly, he was a supporter or member of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI).
A meme is a way of expression of one’s thoughts, no matter how ugly they are. A meme may carry a symbolic meaning representing a theme popular in a given culture. A mischievous meme is offensive, but a fake news item is a graver offence. Unfortunately, highly educated and skilled youth such as doctors have jumped into the arena of making spiteful memes and producing fake news. It simply means that society may be festering at the core.
During the 2018 elections, when fake news generated by social media was taking over the popularity of political parties other than the PTI, both the Army and the judiciary remained silent spectators. Similarly, in the past, the Army launched a struggle to persuade the youth to defend Pakistan’s ideological frontiers, but the effort has now been boiled down to the youth’s defending ideological boundaries of their political party. Understandably, the cybercrime wing of the FIA is active just because the state institutions are the victims. For Pakistan, post-2018 initiated the post-truth era
There could be five reasons for such a phenomenon.
First, almost everyone is accessible through social media. Informal media such as social media have assumed the role of a platform offering access to every user of a mobile or computer. Any Aira Gaira Nathu Khaira can comment on anything, but with the option of hiding one’s identity. Hence, the liberty to comment and the option to hide one’s self have opened space for those who are already inclined to offend others. To elaborate, people who are not trained at home to respect the feelings of others find an opening in social media to disrespect others. The direct reach is exploited to meet one’s satisfaction. Obsessed with sadistic attributes, certain social media activists harm the feelings of others to seek gratification. The Nathu Khaira brashness attracts many to join social media to vent their loathsome feelings.
A few days ago, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) conducted raids in various parts of the country and apprehended those who were running fake social media accounts. The offenders were found involved in creating memes and crafting fake news that brought the state institutions into disrepute. After being captured, some of the delinquents appeared on TV confessing to their offences and apologizing.
Second, the major user of social media is the youth. As it seems to be, the youth are ignorant of the past. Most even have no idea how Pakistan was created. They do not know what contribution politicians, many of them happened to be landlords and some industrialists, made to the formation of the country. The youth think that landlords are looters and deserve condemnation. The youth contemplate that wealth is gathered only through underhand means. All the wealthy are corrupt. With these points in mind, the youth weigh up every politician. When somehow they came to know that some army officers also fell into the same category, the guns were turned on them. The youth act like revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s aspiring for revolts.
Third, television is deprived of entertainment. In the past, there used to be dramas telecast on TV before 9pm news. Now, from 7pm onward, television shows political talk shows, which are repeated at night. These talk shows are the main source of income for television, especially private TV channels, which are in the arena to attract business. The race to get more highly paid advertisement compels TV channels to hire fiery anchorpersons, who in turn invite furious guests who could make their talk shows popular. The uttered words, which are mostly biassed, sway the viewers. TV personifies a political theatre. Morning shows or late night entertainment shows are replete with political comments. Even eunuchs participating in any programmes conducted in the name of entertainment have to cast political puns on others. The whole day politics bombards the minds of the viewers. It is as if there were a political emergency gripping the country perpetually.
Fourth, student politics is banned. In the past, student politics saw a blood-soaked era of the 1980s, which terrified the parents who remained reluctant to send their children to government-run colleges and universities. Fractured bones and skulls were normal. Religious parties occupied universities and forced the enrolled students to follow up their ideologies. The downside is that now the youth do not find an outlet to express their thoughts or views. They use their creative abilities in creating memes and crafting fake news that could touch the sentiments of the viewers and that could attract maximum number of likes. The absence of student politics could not permit these young minds to mature politically.
Fifth, the youth are amenable to any slogan raised even for the sake of political gimmickry. They are equally acquiescent to religious and nationalistic jingles which could stir their imagination. This was the same trend the youth of the 1980s experienced when they were coaxed into launching a holy war in the neighbourhood. Their inherent impatience convinces them to look for a quick solution to the projected ills of the country. In making memes and creating fake news, many may seek revenge from society.
The aforementioned are a few reasons making Pakistan’s society politically polarized to a precarious extent. Polarization is still a soft word. Pakistan’s society stands fractured politically.
Generally speaking, Pakistan saw the influx of social media after 2010, but the time in the run-up to the elections of 2018 found a trend of modified (cropped) pictures and fabricated news sweeping across social media, which lent its content to electronic media. This was the beginning. The PTI supporters (or workers) were the most active. All lies were employed to tarnish the personal and political image of the opponents. The elections brought the PTI into the corridors of power. With that, the trend of making fake accounts spreading fake pictures and fake news got solidified. The Umme Hareem phenomenon is the pinnacle.
During the 2018 elections, when fake news generated by social media was taking over the popularity of political parties other than the PTI, both the Army and the judiciary remained silent spectators. Similarly, in the past, the Army launched a struggle to persuade the youth to defend Pakistan’s ideological frontiers, but the effort has now been boiled down to the youth’s defending ideological boundaries of their political party. Understandably, the cybercrime wing of the FIA is active just because the state institutions are the victims. For Pakistan, post-2018 initiated the post-truth era.
The recent upsurge is in the wake of April 9, when the vote of no-confidence ousted the PTI’s government from the Centre. Almost all of the captured offenders are PTI workers, who apologized for their comments on social media. The FIA may find itself helpless when politicians are vilified.
The writer can be contacted at: [email protected]