ICT (information and communication technology) in general and social media in particular, has brought about a significant change across the globe. Social networks have become themselves strong markets, where commercial entities, service providers and social philanthropists have been promoting their agenda. However, after the Arab Spring and the series of events from Yemen, Egypt, Libya, to Italy, Spain, UK and certain other parts of Europe; social media came into the limelight as a potential game changer in politics. BBM, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook helped people communicate, share and spread their voice to bring a change. Be it leaderless revolt in Egypt, Beppe Grillo in Italy or Imran Khan in Pakistan; all went on to use ICT to their greater political advantage. Even in the most recent scenario, the US presidential elections were the prime example, where around $6 billion were spent in the high-tech election campaign, giving Obama nickname of ‘social media president’. We will just restrict our discussion to the scenario of Pakistan. How social media has been effective in political mobilization and will it have impact on general elections 2013?
Social Media Statistics & Pakistan:
Globally, Facebook has over 1 billion, Twitter has over 450 million and LinkedIn has around 175 million users. Let me tell you here that case of Pakistan is very interesting and unique from rest of the world. In United States, around 92% of the population has a smartphone, increasing the prospects of internet access. In Pakistan, 110 million people have mobile phones with less than 20% smartphone users. According to the reports, 70% of the mobile subscribers have a cell phone between price-range of 2000-4,000 PKR. The broadband subscribers (including wireless & DSL) in Pakistan are just around 2.2 million. Keeping this figure in mind, we can have an idea of how much population social media portals have in Pakistan.
SocialBaker has ranked Pakistan on #28 in the index of Facebook Population by country. In Pakistan, 8.05 million people have Facebook account. This means Facebook has a 4.37% penetration rate in Pakistani population. On the other hand, Twitter has the population of around 1.9 million in Pakistan, though it is growing fast now. You can find the detailed report of Twitter users in Pakistan here.
In political terms, we look at the Facebook statistics, Pervez Musharaf is the most popular politicians in the country with 0.64 million fans. Other popular pages include Pak Army with 619,000 fans, Imran Khan Official with 0.55 million fans, Shahbaz Sharif with 397,000 fans and Mustafa Kamal with 227,000 fans. Out of political parties, PTI, PMLN and Jamaat-e-Islami are the most popular ones with hundreds of thousands of fans.
Political Impacts & Trolling:
Social media has been quite an effective tool for political mobilization in the country. The sudden rise of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf in particular is credited to social media. They pioneered political use of social media portals and have been quite effectively using it. However, with the passage of time, almost all progressive parties have adopted it as organization, though some individuals were already active from almost every political party. The most interesting case here is of PMLN and PTI. With the rise of PTI in central Punjab, Muslim League responded back with solid performance on the ground as well as on social networks. We see that many key figures of both parties including Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, Asad Umar, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Ahsan Iqbal and Maryam Nawaz are very active on social networks.
When we look at the impacts of social networks, they are both; positive and negative. Social media has reduced the gap and distance between leadership and followers. It has also enabled public to share their criticism and immediate feedback on any particular social, political and administrative development. However, the common digital evils of cyber bullying and trolling could not be avoided. PTI got the bad name of trolling party owing to abusive language and deliberate character assignation of public figures. Though officially, they have some code of conduct but it is seldom followed.
Impact on General Elections:
Though, we can’t deny the importance of social media in terms of public awareness creation and driving opinion. However, should we expect that it will have any impact on political results?? There are two opinions here. Many political analysts believe that only those parties will win, who are good on the ground. Just 4.3% of the population, with Facebook account isn’t enough to change polling results.
However, I personally believe that we should never forget the quality and nature of those 4 or 5% segment of the population using social media. They are mostly opinion makers and can drive a wave of change. Therefore, in order to win elections, you will have to educate people about your performance, vision, and manifesto. This requires a comprehensive plan of action on the part of political parties and strategists to come up with strong online presence and reputation management program. Last but not the least, we need to abide by our social values and ethics as Muslim society while marketing us on the Facebook or Twitter.
If only Facebook can guarantee you political success; Pervez Musharaf should clean-sweep general elections 2013 Also see, why Mitt Romney failed to defeat Obama, despite having greater social media penetration rate? You should have something substantial to amplify your campaign on social media.
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