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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Social Media as a Tool for Change

It would not be incorrect to say that we live in the age of social media, the effects of which can be seen very prominently in the world around us. Social media tools such as Micro blogging site Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have become a part of every day life and they have entirely changed the way millions  of us interact and engage with the wider world around us. Facebook in particular has been a real game changer with over a billion years world wide. Social media has provided an extremely effective medium of marketing and public relations for businesses both big and small as it allows them to participate in two feedback with their desired audiences. The real power of social media however lies in its ability to allow its users to not only communicate with multiple users, but also share, create and broadcast content with wider audiences and achieve mass penetration.

The youth in particular has been a major driving force that has fueled and accelerated the growth of social media around the world due to their willingness to adopt and embrace innovation and technology. Let's not forget that behind these major social media sites were young entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerburg who founded Facebook while he was an undergraduate student at Harvard University. This growth has been further fueled by the advent of the smart phone that allows access and connectivity to social media platforms for its users on the go. Alongside social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, blogging sites such as Word Press and Blogger have provided many with a platform through which they can share their ideas, thoughts and opinions in writing. Blogs are also a very potent tool if used properly in any social media or internet based campaign.

Over the past few years, millions of us have witnessed first hand the power of social media and the role that it has played in shaping global events. When disaster struck Japan last year in the form of the Tsunami, images of the extent of the disaster were broadcast over social media bringing to the attention of the world the extent of the devastation that had hit Northern Japan. These past few years have also witnessed revolutions all across the Middle East and North Africa which has brought about political and social change. Twitter and Facebook allowed countless users and activists within the region to spread the word and get the message across through mass circulation. As a result of which it became possible to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters of democratic and political reforms. Through YouTube activists in the region were able to broadcast videos of the on going revolution as it happened and attract support of the international community as the governments made every possible to suppress the demonstrators.

The potential that social media has to offer has even been experienced in a country like Pakistan, where it has been at the fore front of political rallies, for voicing outrage against government policy or injustice, social activism and for campaigning by pressure groups. In the winter of 2011-12 cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and his political party, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf organized massive political rallies in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, with an attendance estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Prior to the rallies in these two mega cities, members of Tehreek-e-Insaaf as well as its youth wing were very active active through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter in communicating the party message to the masses especially the youth and mobilizing them. As it turned out, the social media campaign worked and the rallies proved to be a huge success. Many analysts argue that the success of these rallies could have a significant impact on the upcoming elections later in the year. The rally was also broadcast via social media to a global audience over the internet. Following Imran Khan and the PTI's lead, many other politicians and their political parties have jumped onto the social media bang wagon and begun working on an effective customized social media campaign.

When tragedy strikes, social media proves that that it is more than just a tool for social communication and can play a vital role in generating mass public attention and awareness towards a cause, even if the cause involves fighting for justice. This past December, a young media sciences student from a local university was gunned down in cold blood in Karachi by members of a very influential and politically connected family. Friends and family members of the victim took up their fight for justice on social media. It was because of social media, that they were able to get a large number of people not just within Karachi but through out Pakistan to join their cause and mobilize through organized peaceful protests across the nation. The volume of activity offline and online through social media managed to capture the attention of television channels, as well as law enforcement agencies that took actions to ensure the criminals were brought to justice and this casualty did not become just another random statistic. This has inspired many others to seek out justice through the effective use of social media.

Social media in a country like Pakistan has also created a generation of citizen journalists and activists, who are able to record and report breaking news as it happens . This also lead to the growth in the number of young people pursuing careers in media and journalism. For example when civil unrest engulfs the city of Karachi, social media proves itself to be an effective tool of communication for people to inform one another about alerts, developments and important facts such as which routes to use and which to avoid and supporting such alerts photographs and videos. Countless offline campaigns started and gathered support through social media, whether they have been campaigns to fight for minority rights, or for the passing of certain legislation on provincial or federal levels. Policy makers realize the ability of social media in shaping and influencing public opinion and are now mindful of the relevant developing trends. With all the potential that social media has to offer, it is highly likely that in the days and months to come we will witness growth in the use of social media in Pakistan as a tool for activism. Time will tell whether social media is a fad of sorts or the start of many great things to come. 





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