Social media has become a voice of the new generation but will it be enough to usher in social and political change?
We live in an age of social media, the effects of which can be seen in the world around us. Social media tools such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have become a part of our daily lives. In an era of technology, social media websites have altered the way millions of users interact with a global and an increasingly connect- ed world. Facebook in particular has been a game changer, recording over a billion users worldwide. Given the success of such portals and their reach to young users around the world, the corporate sector has also recently warmed up to the phenomenon, using it as an effective medium for marketing and public relations. The real power of social media, however, lies in its ability to allow users to share, create and broadcast content to a wider audience and achieve mass penetration.
The youth, in particular, has been a major driving force that has fuelled and accelerated the growth of social media around the world. Let us not forget that it was a young entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerburg, an undergraduate student at Harvard University, who founded Facebook, opening the doors to a new era of connectivity. The arrival of smartphones has further accelerated the use of social media, allowing users instant access to the Internet. Besides social networking websites, like Twitter and Facebook, blogging websites such as Word Press and Blogger have also provided individuals with a platform to voice their opinions, giving rise to citizen journalism in many parts of the developing world. Blogs are also a very potent tool if used properly in any social media or internet based campaign.
Of late, social media has played a decisive role in broadcasting and, in some cases, influencing world events. In 2011, when a tsunami wreaked havoc in Japan, Japanese citizens shared images of the extent of the disaster in real time, over social media. Political revolutions have also become somewhat of a norm, engineered by social media users. Some analysts argue that the 2011 Arab Spring was a result of social media users venting their frustration over the state of affairs in Egypt and Tunisia. For many, the portal worked as a platform for dissent, congregation and later collective planning. The strategy, which led to phenomenal changes under an autocratic regime, triggered a series of uprisings throughout the Middle East. Facebook and Twitter made it possible to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters who rallied for democratic and political reforms in the country. Similarly, YouTube activists in the region were able to broadcast videos of the revolution as it happened and gain the support of the international community while the governments made every possible move to suppress the demonstrators.
Pakistan has also experienced the power of social media, whether it is in the form of citizen journalism or amassing youth for a political rally. In December 2011, cricketerturned-politician, Imran Khan and his political party, Pakistan Tehreeke-Insaf (PTI), organized mammoth political rallies in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, with attendance exceeding millions. Prior to holding rallies, members of PTI, along with its youth wing, actively used social media to communicate the party message to the masses and mobilize supporters. The social media campaign turned out to be a mega success and convinced other politicians and diplomats to dabble in new media.
In many instances, social media has played a vital role in generating public attention and awareness towards a cause. This past December, a young student in Karachi, was shot by members of a very influential and politically connected family. Friends and family of the victim took up their fight on social media. The outlet not only created awareness but also generated a public outcry for justice. Scores of young people organized peaceful marches and served as a pressure group for the government to take action against the perpetrators. It was perhaps the interest and concern generated through social media, and later highlighted through broadcast media, that forced law enforcement agencies to launch an offensive and ensure the criminals were brought to justice, preventing this tragedy from becoming yet another lost statistic.
Social media has revolutionized journalism and citizen activism in Pakistan. Apart from this, it also serves as a reliable and effective tool of communication. For example, when civil unrest engulfs Karachi, activists on social media portals inform the public through news alerts about city routes, and other first-hand information. Policy makers also realize the ability of social media in shaping and influencing public opinion. It is likely that in the coming days, Pakistan will witness a growth in social media. Only time will tell whether social media is a fad or a reality that is here to stay.