09222017Headline:

Social Media is the wild West of educated middle class by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Social media and fake news have played a pivotal role in political outcomes that has shaken the existing world order. Pakistan is no different where there are an estimated 30 million users on facebook (source Geo News). Almost all these people belong to educated middle class considering that the cost of smartphones and Internet needed to access it is out of reach for the poor. This middle class that is left out of the political process is actively busy in targeting and shaking the status quo. But the worrisome trend is that the highly educated and well informed among these users are most active in spreading rumors and blatant lies to further their political agenda. During the quiet period of almost 60 days of the Supreme Court bench to announce Panama Papers verdict, I would almost get a daily dose of their decisions that people swore was told to them by the judges themselves. A similar thing happened in DAWN leaks and now in JIT proceedings. This raises some questions that need to be explored. First, how is the modern propaganda promotion structured? Second, why does middle class wants to break the system? And what do they achieve from this anarchist approach?

There are three types of participants in the media landscape that are trying to control the political narrative. First is social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube, dailymotion, whatsapp) that is used by all participants both individuals and organizations. Second is regulated media that include all registered newspapers and television channels. Within this sector, there are those that have a long history of journalism as well as those that are owned by oligarchs where each has their own objective to pursue. The third participant is websites that are not a member of any professional journalistic organization but present itself as such in its look and feel to create credibility around itself. For instance, recently a website named something like bbcxxxx.com sent a survey report in which one particular political party, as well as its leader, was projected as very corrupt while another party and its leader as most clean. The survey report went viral being projected as if somehow it is related to world famous BBC. Upon close scrutiny, it was obvious that it had no relation with BBC and was part of a fake news network. So here is how it works. A team creates many fake news websites are created that look and feel like a genuine news organization. Then they start posting articles to promote a particular propaganda narrative. These news articles are then spread on social media through a team of paid activists which works as a seed and from there it is picked up by unsuspecting individuals that make it viral. In other words, a snowball effect is created to spread fake news. Pakistan is now totally in grip of such fake news websites and their social media promoters. I will not be surprised if foreign governments and other covert vested interests are behind such operations. Germany and France took concrete steps to deal with this issue during their elections and set up government bodies that widely created public awareness about fake news organizations and their fictional information. But it is also a reality that a wide cross section of Pakistani middle class is a participant in the social media for its own political objectives.

The next question is then why would Middle Class want to break the system? Pakistani middle class throughout its history has tried to align itself with undemocratic forces for its political objective for a reason. Educated middle-class control almost all segments of Pakistani society including journalism, bureaucracy, military, small business, religious seminaries, academia, arts, judiciary, legal fraternity and business management. But despite that widespread control of many segments, it has found it hard to have influence in politics through a democratic process. All India Muslim League and Unionist Party of Punjab, in pre-partition India, were largely controlled by big businessmen and landed feudal class. They never allowed the middle class to gain a foothold in politics. The situation prevailed after independence as well. To overcome this hurdle middle class sided with and supported military dictators to gain access to corridors of power. Most of these military dictators themselves belonged to the middle class but the problem arose that once they gained control of government they left their middle-class supporters behind and tried to align with political elites that belonged to oligarchs and feudal. Not only that when middle class provided heft and support to two popular civilian leaders Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Imran Khan both of them broke rank with their supporters and allowed the same elites to gain control of their parties PPP and PTI respectively.

So now here is the situation educated middle class does not have any influence or effective role in any political party as well as the military has decided not to intervene in politics. In other words, all roads to political power are now closed for the middle class to have its due share. This is creating frustration and hence social media campaign to target the status quo. They believe that, in the form of social media, they have found a recipe to further their political agenda. But they don’t realize that this approach is anarchist and could inflict more damage than good to the nation. Middle Class has to show more resilience, resolve and consistency to use its majority position to its advantage and gain commensurate share in the political process.

The solution is for the middle class to take a longer view and form a political platform that represents the progressive agenda that they have to the nation. The success of MQM is an example that if middle class organize itself then it can overcome any hurdle to gain political power. The other lesson in the example of MQM is not to allow one person to control the party as that inflicts damage but rather develop teams that have depth to deliver.

As you all know we have created barriers inside our party PTI so that feudal and oligarchs do not gain control of the party. We have defeated them politically at every turn and their influence is only limited to Bani Gala. Now they are trying their last ditch effort to gain control through an illegitimate and unconstitutional intra-party election. But they will not succeed as we have already filed a petition with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the illegitimacy and unconstitutionality of the whole exercise. Our objective is to provide a political platform for the middle class for their political activism and we hope that most of them will join our movement rather than work on social media as a wrecking ball to destroy the nascent democracy.

The fight for control between Middle Class and ruling elite is gaining momentum and speed. All we have to do is move it from small screens to the streets and homes in the country.

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