General elections are just around the corner (hopefully) and most of the discussions in the media and among the masses are occupied by two themes: disenchantment with the way things are and skepticism about any change in the future.  However, there is a relatively new phenomenon that may prove to be a challenge for the political dinosaurs (or predators) in our country.  I’m referring to the use of social media for voter engagement.

Communication technology in general and social media in particular would play a major role during next general elections. With well over 100 million cell users in the country and increasing availability of internet in far-flung areas of the country, it is bound to impact the elections,” predicts Professor Rasul Baksh Rais of LUMS.

This time around, about 60 percent of the country’s population comprises of voter between the ages of 18-25.  How significant this statistic is, has yet to be seen.

Why Should We Consider Social Media as a Force of Change? Two Words: Arab Spring

Between the end of 2010 and during 2011, we witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon shake the very foundations of the modern day Arab world.  People started demanding change; they demanded the dictators and the tyrants to step down and be held accountable.  How did this happen?  It all started with the traditional methods of planning, organizing and rallying the masses but they had a new weapon too: social media.  Facebook and Twitter proved to be the glue that brought the protestors together with amazing effectiveness.  The activists in Egypt were communicating through social platforms for quite some time and these discussions transpired into a mass movement, which turned into a domino effect.

Pakistani Political Parties and Social Media

Social media has finally caught the fancy of Pakistani politicians.  Imran Khan and PTI are the trend setters in this area.  Since Facebook (FB) is the De-facto leader of social media platforms, let’s take a look at how different parties stack-up on FB :

Political PartyFB LIKESFB talking about this
Imran Khan FB page406,66724,888
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf294,55624,888
PML (N)61,0523,713
*MQM Television46,2112,487
Jamat-e-Islami41,4155,134
PPP20,5951,575
*M.Q.M FACE BOOK UNIT2,16612

*MQM appears to have two relevant pages

The statistics above undoubtedly make Imran Khan the King of Social Media among Pakistani political figures, and PTI the leader of the pack among the parties.

Issues with the Use of Social Media in Pakistani Politics

As amazing a tool as it may be, there are some obvious issues with the use of social media in Pak politics:

Limited reach: So far, social platforms are only able to rally around the urban population.  With the majority of the vote banks situated in the rural areas, the influence of social media is questionable.  Illiteracy and the language barrier would seriously hamper its reach.

Inappropriate language and demeanor: Just like in the field, social platforms are often used to ridicule, slander and verbally abuse the very people who are running the respective sites.  Open discussion is definitely beneficial but the negative behavior only adds to the animosity among the political workers and adds nothing positive to the campaigns.

Wave of Change or just a Fad?

The social activity surrounding Imran Khan’s Lahore jalsa was an indicator of the power of social media.  We are definitely sick and tired of corrupt politicians and their unscrupulous behavior.  Anything that can challenge the current system and holds promise for a change is certainly welcome.  However, despite its potential, there are many question marks about the true influence of social media in Pak politics.

Do you think the social media phenomenon is likely to have any effect on the results of the upcoming elections? Let us know what you think…

(Image courtesy of Anne Helmond)