Tech society & Generation E : Daily Express Tribune Report

Tech society: Generation E : Express Tribune Report

‘Like’ it or not, Pakistan’s thriving cyber community is likely to play a big role in shaping the country’s future.
Remember the days when social media websites like Orkut were about staying in touch with friends and dodging “Frandship” requests? Fortunately, social media in Pakistan has come a long way since then. It has progressed from an avenue for virtual stalkers to a forum for politically savvy communities.

The social media revolution and Pakistan’s future
Nowadays, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are replete with heated political, religious and social debates.
For example, an explosion of divisive discussions followed the former governor Salman Taseer’s controversial decision to repeal Aasia Bibi’s death penalty, who had been accused of blasphemy, and his subsequent assassination.
Taseer, who was one of the most internet savvy politicians, was involved in the flurry of debates himself. His eerily prescient last tweet, which he sent before he was shot dead, “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing.”
Right after his assasination, Pakistanis expressed a diversity of opinions — shock, anger and delight — in their facebook status updates. Many social media users were caught off guard by the reactions of their closest friends in the hours after Salman Taseer was shot.
“I was stunned by the status updates in support of the Governor’s killing,” says Norbert, a middle-aged Christian man who was born and raised in Karachi. “I had to un-friend some of my closest friends because of their status updates in support of Qadri. There should be no support or justification for murder, even if it’s on Facebook.”
Surely, the most fascinating development in Pakistan’s social media landscape is the emergence of a genuine ‘people to people’ debate online and expression of differing opinions. In fact, given the advantage of anonymity, there aren’t any issues in Pakistani society that are off limits for social media users to discuss and debate openly among themselves. For example, when people discuss issues like the blasphemy law or violence in Karachi, they are far more candid and forthcoming in their social media discussions than they would be in any other public forum.
“Facebook has been a real roller coaster ride for Pakistanis,” says Dr Awab Alvi, one of Pakistan’s most prominent bloggers, popularly known as Teeth Maestro. “Until 2004/05, there was no real political debate happening among people. Today, you’ll see people with conflicting points of view coming together on Facebook to debate opposite ends of an issue. Pakistanis are learning and flexing their muscles when it comes to debating.”
For example, many politicians have successfully cashed in on Pakistan’s social media community. Imran Khan now has over 225,000 Facebook ‘likes’ on his fan page and an army of social media supporters spreading his messages. Musharraf has over 430,000 likes.
At the moment, there are a number of social media sites creating awareness about voter registration drives for the 2013 elections within Pakistan’s social media community. Some of these registration drives aren’t even affiliated with political parties; their stated agenda is simply to enhance voter participation in the elections.
As time passes, Pakistan’s social media users will continue to push the edge on subjects that are brushed under the carpet in our national discourse. No one epitomises the pushing of boundaries more than the Begairat Brigade, the latest Pakistani sensation to burst onto the social media scene. The Begairat Brigade — a band of three talented musicians, Ali Aftaab Saeed, Daniyal Malik and Hamza Malik — struck a chord with their dark social satire in a music video, which went viral after it was uploaded on You Tube. The lyrics in their song questioned the health of a nation where the likes of Mumtaz Qadri and Ajmal Qasab are celebrated for their violence but Abdus Salam is forgotten, despite his Nobel Prize and contribution to science.
In a clever play on words, the band ends their music video with a poster which reads: “If you want a bullet through my head, like this video.”

Business 2.0
Interestingly, it’s not just political or social debates that have set the social media scene on fire, businesses are also vying for a piece of the action. Well-respected international and local brands are executing social media campaigns to attract consumers and build their businesses in the country. Even small and non-traditional brands are using social media to attract audiences online.
“I used to think that Facebook was useless,” says Dosti Zahra, editor & social media manager for Blah, a monthly magazine targeting the youth in Pakistan. “But my thinking changed when I started promoting a brand on it.”
Through Dosti’s social media engagement strategy, Blah has managed to accumulate over 11,000 fans on Facebook in eight months.
Dosti is a strong believer in the power of social media because it exposes people to perspectives that they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. She argues that “Facebook, pages like ‘The Awkward Moment when Karachi is safer than London’ actually make people take serious things in a lighter way, which isn’t a bad thing because awareness of a topic is better than not knowing anything.”

Social media: Still a snoop’s paradise?
Yet for some people though, Facebook is still about digging up material for gossip and good old-fashioned stalking. “Your popularity is judged by the number of friends you have on Facebook,” says Seema Tejani, a third year university student from Karachi. “People are into Facebook because it lets you sneak into other people’s lives and provides material for gossip.”
“Pictures are a big reason too,” adds Seema. “A friend of mine adds beautiful girls on Facebook so he can check out their albums.”
While popularity contests and gossip mongering will remain one of the most important uses of social media in Pakistan, it will be interesting to watch how the political and social debates unfolding online will transform Pakistani society in the “real world”.

(Published in “Express Tribune” on November 5, 2011)

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