Social media is emerging as a critical factor in politics while online activism helps to address certain specific issues of people like civic facilities and getting the salary, but it has limits to tackle the chronic problems of corruption and poverty.
With more and more people using Twitter and Facebook, there is a need for ethical reporting in this hyper-connected world.
These views were expressed by speakers in three sessions on first day of the Pakistan-India Social Media Mela here on Friday.
In a session titled ‘Dhobi Ghat: the impact of party politics on social media’, Indian journalist Annie Zaidi said that in India even certain chief ministers of states/provinces used social media and it was a good thing to have access to such people. Another positive development was that some voices of the voters were available on it, she said.
Zaidi said lack of literacy or technology did not make social media invalid as now even newspapers carried comments of politicians and other personalities made on Twitter and Facebook.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) social media strategist, Awab Alvi, said the PTI was extensively using social media since it was quite popular among youths of urban centres. However, one of the negative consequences of its popularity was that it was being “attacked and defamed” in the media.
He admitted that PTI leaders wanted to be on social media and he usually got their messages even late at night to repeat their twitters. Alvi said the PTI was cleared on certain things but it was not generating debate on it since it was not in power.
The MQM’s social media strategist, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, said their party considered social media a good platform for disseminating the party policies and countering any negative campaign. He said the MQM had a “sophisticated unit” for this purpose as “we do take everything very seriously”.
Human rights activist Marvi Sirmed regretted that the people’s issues were not being debated in social media; instead “dirty politics” and “shallow rhetoric” were being fed to the people. She said the PTI was being accused of being “very aggressive” on social media in responding to certain things. Sirmed called for mature politics as “the people take mood from their leaders”.
She was of the opinion that PTI activists may be “aggressive” for being less experienced in politics, especially electoral ones. She said people may have concerns as regards the MQM, but their leaders appeared “more civil and mature” on social media.
Sirmed said that even the ISPR had realised the importance of using social media. She revealed that one of her acquaintances in the ISPR once sent their news to her to spread it on social media.
Senior journalist Beena Sarwar said the elections were the deciding factor in politics, but politicians could not ignore the Twitter world as social media was emerging as a crucial factor. However, she stressed the need to be very careful as someone might be “misusing” it.
In another session titled ‘Saving the world: does online activism work?’, Indian online activist Raheel Khursheed said social media was resolving around 30 specific issues globally in a month.
He cited several recent incidents of online activism in different parts of India, which forced the government to give salaries to teachers after four years in Jharkhand, to reconstruct ponds for dogs in Hyderabad, to take action against misbehaviour of rickshaw drivers in Banglore and to regularise transport fares in Chennai.
Raheel said that it was “consolidated pressure” which compelled the authorities to act but it all started with online initiative by single person who elicited support of other online activists for online petitions.
He revealed that a slum boy in Mumbai had started a campaign for saving Kaliwadas (who are original citizens of Mumbai) and had got support from 789 people so far. Khursheed said that following the success of online activism in Chennai, online activists were planning to launch an online campaign in Delhi for the regularisation of transport fares.
Answering a question about quality control, Raheel said: “We believe in wisdom of the crowd.”
In the third session titled ‘The need for speed: ethical reporting in a hyper-connected world’, Indian online activist Karuna John said the issue of ethics arose with the breaking news phenomenon. She suggested that “social media needs to be handled with a lot of care”.
John called for the traditional way of reporting facts and cross-checking them on social media.