August 1 brought news of a devastating tragedy: the crash of an army chopper during flood relief operations in Balochistan. All six military personnel on board were martyred in the tragic crash....
August 1 brought news of a devastating tragedy: the crash of an army chopper during flood relief operations in Balochistan. All six military personnel on board were martyred in the tragic crash. While the crash news led to a general sense of bereavement and loss, it also laid open the not-so-secret toxic nature of social media. Through a highly insensitive online campaign trivializing both the accident and the martyred, post-crash social media became a site of contesting fake news, propaganda and startling insensitivity. Now the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has issued a statement regarding the goings-on post the crash on social media and has said it hurt the sentiments not only of the armed forces but also of the families of the victims of the crash.
For years, we have been talking about the way social media has been weaponized with full-fledged troll teams attacking anyone who dares to disagree with them. Recently, this has been ramped up even more so, with no one escaping social media abuse and fake propaganda -- state institutions becoming the primary target in recent months. Not only religiously or culturally but also per bare minimum norms of decency, trivializing death -- and that too a martyrdom that occurred in the service of humanity -- crosses the red lines of any civilized society. It is unfortunate that the political polarization in the country, which is truly reflected on social media, can make people pass such malicious comments in the face of a national tragedy. In the wake of the ISPR statement, and in a case of too late, there are now efforts to backtrack from such campaign. The posts on social media were used to weaponize a tragedy for a specific political narrative. These attempts to turn this tragedy into a joke was not only distasteful but also a blow to the unity of the country, which is already deeply divided and split into many factions.
This is not the first time a particular set of political actors has been accused of social media trolling. Pakistani journalists have been complaining about this for years now, particularly women journalists who even made a public statement about the online harassment they faced at the hands of politically affiliated accounts. The same goes for fake news and propaganda, which is a global issue that has somehow been mastered in Pakistan over the years, in particular the past few months. While President Arif Alvi has rightly condemned those social media posts, perhaps it would be better if party leaderships too give a clear message that such campaigns will not be tolerated. Populist politics has a heady effect on young minds, some of whom are not even well-versed in the nuances of the messaging they are receiving and sending out; getting them into trouble because of petty power games is cynical politics at its worst. A word of caution though: the solution to this can never be banning or blocking social media use. The solution at the moment for politics, society and general discourse in the country is for all political stakeholders to take a step back and see the big picture: a society that has become so toxic that it doesn't even spare martys is not a society that can be democratic or free. No one wins in these olympics of venom.