Thursday December 07, 2023

Social media and elections

July 13, 2018

For a stable democratic society, the importance of a free and fair election cannot be denied. The credit for raising political awareness among people after a long struggle goes to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Political analysts are of the view that young activists of the PTI are utilising social media in a very efficient manner to convey the party’s message throughout the country. No doubt, the PTI’s narrative is playing a pivotal role in developing public opinion on a larger scale.

To counter the PTI in the digital world, other political parties have also tried to ensure their presence on social media. However, they are ignorant about the fact that social media, if not managed wisely, is capable of harming one’s own interests. The most prominent example in this regard is of the PML-N’s social media strategy. Its controversial and irresponsible tweets not only resulted in unending troubles for the PML-N’s top leadership but also led the country towards uncertainty, misunderstanding and political instability.

In today’s digital age, almost every political leader including Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Maryam Nawaz, Sheikh Rasheed and Farooq Sattar are using Twitter to comment on various national and international issues. Their tweets not only become viral within seconds but are also shown on television as breaking news. There are no two opinions that nowadays e-papers, blogs and news portals are more popular than the traditional media. It has happened many a times that the source of various breaking news was actually a post that went viral on social media, or a message shared on WhatsApp groups.

Social media is also globally used for effective and rapid communication among states, envoys and political leadership. All the world’s leaders have official social media accounts, especially on Twitter, where they openly express their views, national stance and support or warning for other countries. The importance of social media in politics can be gauged from the fact that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent millions of dollars on their social media campaigns during the US presidential elections.

Even almost two years after the US presidential elections, reports of Russia’s alleged intervention through social media are still echoing in the media. In a meeting with the US Senators, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also reportedly admitted to such involvement in the presidential elections. The social media networking website’s administration is also facing criticism due to reports of data leakage of users and breach of privacy policies. So far Facebook has had to bear a huge loss of $60 billion in value.

Similarly, another political consultancy firm has been accused of manipulating the US political system. The agency influenced voters through social media by generating propaganda against opponents, by publicising their scandals and projecting images of favourite candidates. According to foreign media, thousands of voters belonging to various states of the US were targeted to manipulate the election results. The company has also been accused of influencing the UK’s Brexit campaign, as well as playing a suspicious role in the elections of Kenya, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and Malaysia.

In Pakistan, social media has proved its significance and thus, all political parties are using the platform to convey their political manifestos to the public. Candidates who have a presence on Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter are likely to have a higher success rate. Similarly, campaigning on social media has become as essential as door-to-door campaigning. Today, almost all political candidates understand the importance of latest technologies very well. Many politicians are hiring social media experts to manage their official Facebook and Twitter accounts to ensure maximum number of votes. Due to social media’s active role, voters have become empowered to interact with political candidates and seek answers regarding many issues.

In the current political scenario, many examples can be quoted of how social media influenced decisions of top party leaders. However, we must not believe each and every post. Many a times, fake news, morphed photographs and fabricated videos have also attracted the attention of traditional media. We must use the platform wisely and for good reasons. The active role of social media will help ensure free and fair elections.

The writer is patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani