Social media at cross roads

Social media seems to be coming of age in Pakistan. I say this because not only is it now spoken of in the mainstream and often with not so kind tones but it has caused a few upheavals of its own ala the fight for judiciary and in recent times maya khan, Shahzaib and the like. Leaks of a startling nature are often now seen first on social media before the mainstream picks up on them in Pakistan as well. Stories which are quashed by corporate concerns or political ones also make their presence felt on this alternative platform. Perhaps that is why media people be it print or broadcast are now trying to make the “online” facet of them as active as possible.

There are however two main issues with social media in Pakistan.  The first one has to do with ethics which social media seems to have a severe lack off and the verification of its sources of info. The released list  on an infamous realtors letterhead in recent times is a stark reminder of what damage can be caused when information is not verifiable or is released on an agenda. However the same free and uncontrollable manner in which the same information was released is also what the beauty of this medium lies in.  The issue here is whether the people using it are educated and informed enough to make out the difference between static noise and content of real value. This is exactly what you can see occurring now. A recent example of this would be the “malala sign on maddonas back” photo shopped image, which came out and was debunked in a matter of hours. Same is the case with other altered images which at first could sensationalize but now flounder as they cannot get past basic common sense filters of social media users.

The second issue which needs immediate addressing is the gathering of sharks around social media. Whom I refer to as sharks are often known in the mainstream world as PR companies who are quick to assimilate any new medium of information into their grasp and then tote it to their corporate clients as the new method to spread their messages (read propaganda) on.  Any medium off course needs to eventually turn into a stream of revenue for those that actually know how to harness it to sustain over a period of time but if the growth is indigenous and not imposed, it is much more beneficial to the community. In short it would be better if those within could benefit than those trying to hijack it from the outside. The mentality that bloggers are freeloaders who will show up to any corporate event for goody bags is something which is beneficial for those that arrange those events for oodles of money and not the social media attending.

This is exactly what happened to a fledgling broadcast media in Pakistan when big business interests took over it and reduced it to what it is today. A ratings race which will stop at nothing or no one in order to maintain an advertising income which is the only thing that finances it. Hilariously most of the advertising revenue is provided by corporates and other interests, which will not allow a single word against them. This has led to a media which is pretty swift to take the skin off a politicians back with their wordy whips but are unable to shed any light on the other dregs of our “purely muslim and pak” society.

So I think it is time for those who are positive about social media in Pakistan within it, to unite rather than be part of little groups as one big body which is anti conformation, anti regulation and want to remain the check and balance of mainstream sources which they started out to be. In order to achieve this we would have to go away as a community from the “talking conferences” mode of events that we have all year around to the “teaching workshops” one that any organized media body engages in to provide their upcoming members with the necessary tools of the trade.

Once we have training, certification and skills sorted out we could move towards being an actual and established digital community of people rather than a rag tag bunch who are pissed off every time someone disagrees with them or go to events just to be part of something, when they don’t have a clue as to what that something is.