On­line, Off­line

Southasia - - Contents -

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.

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