Political campaigns step into the digital age.
Right to Speak’, ‘Citizen Journalism’, ‘Online Space for Freedom of Expression’, ‘Power to Public’ and ‘Digital Freedom’ are all terms and slogans we abundantly come across each day. As the number of online forums increases, so does the accessibility of these outlets. transforming them into contemporary trends in public life.
Print and broadcast come under the mainstream media, often editing for news, dramatization or national opinions. Social media on the other hand is not so easily regulated. In most cases, it is merely an individual or a group scattered across the globe, dispersing information that becomes viral in no time. It is an undeniable fact that social media forums are powerful, penetrating and regardless of a person’s background, capable of creating a mass impact immediately.
President Barack Obama’s 2008 social media election campaign is a perfect case in point. Obama’s social media initiative rallied massive support, drawing millions of supporters to a global platform to organize and unite. No matter how strange they were to each other, they created and managed communities, raised funds and influenced more people to join and support him. Working in a virtual world, ‘Team Obama’ emerged as a dynamic force, striving for the accom- plishment of only one goal: Obama’s election.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has yet to embrace the power of the web in general and social media in particular. The situation, however, is not entirely hopeless. Cricketer-turnedpolitician, Imran Khan successfully surpassed traditional strategies in politics. He has emerged as a strong political player, drawing support from the country’s youth by making maximum use of the social media. Through online videos and live streaming of the party’s rallies, Khan has essentially brought a social media revolution to Pakistan’s politics. Supported by a vibrant social media team that has en-
sured his online presence, Imran Khan become the first politician to launch a national social media campaign, setting an example for others to follow.
In a similar scenario, many instances have occurred in India where certain political groups have utilized the digital medium to present their agenda. When cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar was nominated for the Rajya Sabha, a small group of individuals vigorously used twitter to trigger negative sentiments against him. Though their outburst caught instant attention, it did not succeed much, not because the strategy was wrong but because it was Sachin they were up against.
In January, the Indian government issued a notice against excessive use they await the diffusion of the social media obsession in their individual countries. Sri Lanka, however, is approaching the next election phase and many political leaders, inspired by the Obama campaign, are exploiting social media and online communities for political marketing.
The situation is nearly the same in the Arab world. In April 2012, a university lecturer in Palestine was reportedly arrested on account of posting on her facebook page a demand for the President to resign. In the same instance, a few young activists were detained in Lebanon a couple of months ago.
In November 2011, during the South Asian Meeting on the Internet that every individual not only has a viewpoint, but also has the right medium now to express it. In a rapidly globalizing world, everyone has an agenda and is able to put it forward uncensored.
The question then is what should government institutions do to prevent a diffusion of an opposition party’s agenda or a disgruntled public sentiment? Does the answer lie in curbing social media outlets? Many governments have already taken such a step but have suffered serious repercussions. It is essential to realize that social media cannot be regulated or controlled by banning the medium. Any attempt to control it will only backfire.