'All political parties in Pakistan use social media to build narratives'

Senior journalist and social media activist Omar Quraishi has said that social media in Pakistan is being used by political parties to build narratives, saying that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) does it successfully even if its narrative may not be grounded in fact and reality.

He was speaking at the Harvard Pakistan Conference titled: “The Advent of New Tech and Social Media & Pakistani Politics”. He started off with an overview of digital connectivity and social/digital media indicators in Pakistan and the high use of mobile phones and 3G/4G connectivity in Pakistan.

He said that all political parties in Pakistan increasingly use social and digital media whereas all major political leaders and state institutions were also on social media platforms.

Quraishi said that journalists use Twitter as an essential source of firsthand information, adding that often stories break on Twitter.

"Social media is being used by political parties to build narratives. Some like PTI do it successfully even if that narrative may not be grounded in fact and reality. In the absence of any counter-narrative, the narrative, even if it’s biased, will dominate. Perception is reality," he said.

Read more: The state and the menace of social media

The journalist said that fake news is a major negative consequence of the increasing use of digital and social media in Pakistan especially on political issues. Social media will play a crucial role in the next general election. It has empowered individuals and given them a voice, he added.

He said that social media has also empowered supporters of political parties as they can now communicate directly with the leadership. Having said that, he added, the use of social media has increased polarisation in society along political lines – with many people existing in echo chambers.

When asked what the government could do to counter the negative consequences of rising use of social media, Quraishi called for educating people about being responsible in their use of social media. "Some simple rules… don’t forward something you think may be fake," he suggested.

He also spoke about the use of WhatsApp groups which, according to him, were a major source of dissemination of fake news and disinformation.

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