Social media circus

When we come across the term social media in mainstream media, it is always being trumpeted as a ground breaking leap that is altering the connected human conscience. But the question remains: how many Pakistanis use it properly? By social media, I mean the entire gamut of blogging/Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin, etc in case you are wondering or are still oblivious to all this.

You can always find “social media prophets” that harp on and on about its benefits, and use the word “engage” and “transparent” about 83 times in a talk that is seven minutes long. But what does it actually mean? Everyday it seems as though we, the users of social media in the country, have come to think of ourselves as some sort of a vigilante task force with the mission of “balancing and checking” the mainstream media. Sometimes people do it with tremendous effect and unearth stories that usually slip under the radar but most of the time, it only introduces new media junkies who are more like armchair analysts without any research of their own.

So what is the actual essence of social media in Pakistan? Is it the landfill of information that appears at your doorstep in the morning with 213 Facebook updates, 1400 Tweets and 124 new blogposts where about 90 per cent of information is gleaned through the ever-magical wand called Google? Or is it ever going to evolve as it has in the west into an alternate news and content source; something which can be used to actually achieve a result of any substance in the real world aside from self-promotion?

Sometimes I feel as though social media is just a delusion, being used by all of us to distract ourselves from the apathy of our day to day lives. While the most successful blogs in Pakistan are based on insider information being presented to the world as ethical reporting, we can hardly claim to have a moral high ground here. Most of the time we harp on about the Target Rating Point for mainstream media where quality is sometimes compromised for quantity, whereas website hits mean the exact same thing. How many Pakistani bloggers throw mud on news anchors for ill-gotten gains when they earn thousands of dollars each month from consulting and ad traffic without paying a penny in local taxes? It seems that the watchers need a little watching themselves.

By this I am not advocating a government censure or some other kind of spook monitoring but a need for the bigwigs of the social media scene in this country to create and make an association with perhaps a set of basic guidelines to be followed by its members. This may appear to most as a block on the very freedom these online resources bring but can serve as a form of unification as well as the conversion of all this white noise into a singularly intelligible information stream. It can also lead to a more cohesive community which is right now fragmented into different groups operating against each other with very specific agendas.

We must learn to take on the onus of responsibility before we judge others for it. Lets call a spade a spade and realise that we need to use these online tools in a much more refined manner or the social media scene in this nation will continue going south until it becomes a reflection of what it set out to replace.


As published in the Dawn Blog on May 9th 2011