Guest Blog by Zeeshan Khan (@ZeeshChohan)
Perhaps there was no better time to pen this down. With the rising tensions between India and Pakistan lately, the ‘online’ soldiers from both sides have grabbed their keyboards to administer the proceedings between both countries. As the DSL connections became more and more common, there emerged a whole new generation of political supporters. The generation for who the internet revolved around MIRC, msn etc was slowly but gradually politicized. Even at a time when ORKUT was creating a buzz in the online community of Pakistan, no one ever thought that this online space will once become a battleground for future political zealots. But then, they choose sides. Skip to 2015 and no one would have in their wildest imaginations thought that many political parties would have dedicated social media cells managing their online presence. Whether it’s good or bad, is a completely different debate? Just for the sake of argument, greater participation in the political process ensures a more vibrant political canvas. And yes politics is actually about influencing your thought process in some way, so it’s kind of fair too. Having said that, there is still something immensely wrong with this ‘participatory’ element in Pakistan?
During a recent online surfing marathon I came across this line in an article, the line goes like
“Developing your own honest, genuine political beliefs. Not because you want to sound smart at parties, but because as you get older, you’re starting to become less naive and more concerned about important issues that your country faces.”
This is exactly what’s wrong with these online warriors belonging to different political parties. It all starts with a whim or a sudden rush or just because following a certain political party is a new trend. But what started as an ‘un-thought choice’ for many became one of their core principle causes. Politics or social issues for this generation were thought of unwanted subject of discussion. May be the correct assertion would be that political discussion was limited to a certain cadre of young population. But one thing which was more obvious was that those who did engage in such discussions though were labelled as ‘nerds’. With an increasing number of youth opting for a degree in political studies, international relations, development studies or public policy, the canvas of digital political warfare became more vivacious. The online platforms provided people from diversified backgrounds a stage to voice their concerns. Voices which were un-heard before started getting likes, shares and re-tweets. The comment threads propelled a statement in the digital sphere far than it would travel otherwise.
Having an opinion is not a horrific thing. We will always have opinions about everything. What went wrong in this process of having opinions is the creation of ‘Experts without background knowledge’. Anyone who read some random 25 articles in one month suddenly became an expert on politics and how the country should be run. Just like digital world has no border, our online warriors didn’t restrict their opinion to ‘national’ level but rather started to dissect more ‘global’ concepts. I would stress again here that having an ‘opinion’ about global politics is absolutely fine. It is that slight difference between keeping an opinion as an opinion which is tricky because for the youth here ‘opinions’ become ‘facts’ in no time. This was not restricted to just politics. We now have experts on religion, society, economics, sports and music etc. on these platforms. If you ask them for their experience with the subject they are debating upon, the battle takes an entirely different route.
With our ‘Perception Managers’, people who initiate trends and hash tags on these online platforms, the social media landscape in Pakistan will always be a battle ground. Rather than using these platforms for ‘dissemination of information’, the west gave them more avenues for ‘political mileage’ and ‘point scoring’. But if there is one question which I would always ponder about than that will be: Are these hired guns really unbiased?