Monday, October 5, 2015

State of Social Media in Pakistan

Social media has become the most ubiquitous and most powerful source of news updates through smart tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Blogger, Myspace, Storify, Linked-in and several others. In addition to that, it has risen as a tool for the mobilization of collective action and the creation, organization and implementation of social movements around the world, be it election campaign of US President Barack Obama or the Arab Spring. It has been instrumental in supporting political and social movements by providing opportunities for political expression, symbolic identification for collective action, and information exchange.
Pakistan is also associated with this huge, global, every-day widening social media network which has become a new avenue to promote businesses in Pakistan not only used by individuals/firms but also to influence public opinion on social and political issues.
The usage pattern of social media in Pakistan is no different than in United States or any other country of the world. There are 30 million Internet users in Pakistan, 11% of total population, half of which use mobiles to access the internet. In terms of usage, Facebook takes the lead in popularity which has over 8 million users in the country out of a global total of more than 1 billion. Twitter and LinkedIn have 1.9 million and 1.2 million users in Pakistan respectively. Google Plus and Pinterest appear to have far fewer users in Pakistan, at approximately 64,000 and 115,000 respectively.

Overwhelming 50% majority of Facebook users in Pakistan are youth, aged 18-24 years and 25 percent from age 25-34 and overall 70 percent Facebook users are male and 30 percent are females. Of all the online browsing and surfing, 27 percent of internet users in Pakistan are Facebook users. Social media is also more popular in Pakistan because of the accessibility of smartphones at reasonable prices. More and more people are using social media on their phones rather than desktops.
From a political stand-point, social media forums are being increasingly employed by political parties to strengthen their vote bank. The idea is to target a young population aged 18-24 who have never cast votes in any elections to vote for their party in the upcoming elections in 2018. Various political parties have also taken the lead and are using social media like Twitter and Facebook to enhance and expand on their party ideas as well as providing day to day news updates regarding their leadership and party efforts. For others, the social media has also become a tool to smear, charge and accuse politicians of other parties by uploading news items, videos and claims to discredit them.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was one of the front- runner parties to launch campaign on social media and specifically Facebook. PTI chief, Imran Khan capitalized on Facebook and YouTube to launch his political career and promote himself as a leader. Imran Khan’s popularity has increased manifold because of social media and how he has been able to convey his viewpoint and party agenda effectively via the social media.
Following the footsteps of PTI, PPP, PML-N, MQM and most other political parties have followed suit using the social media as an effective tool for getting prospective voters on board. Their pages are very actively updated and monitored. There are number of resources that suggest that most of the mainstream political parties are seriously challenged by PTI, who they fear might rob their vote bank, at least in the urban areas.
Active participation on the social media has become a norm for the political parties in Pakistan. It is a positive development from the political perspective but still far behind in the sense that only a miniscule percentage has access to the internet and social media but the trends do show an increasing popularity. It is also a positive trend from the perspective of the growth of the political system in Pakistan as it would provide forums to new parties who are unable to get a fair chance to be part of the political system through conventional means such as elections.

However, media gagging and censorship on pretext of national security or religious blasphemy should be a cause for concern. Moves like blocking of Facebook in 2010 and current blocking of YouTube only relegate Pakistan to stone- age of Information age.   

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