Social Media has witnessed a mushroom growth that has impacted the discourse of political, cultural and religious systems by providing the equal opportunity of freedom of expression and of sharing an opinion or viewpoint on any issue.
Social Media has played a greater role in right-wing politics that paved the way for populist politicians to reach out to their voters.
Though Social Media has connected the people around the world, at the same time, it is causing division or disintegration and facilitating the social media lobbyists to polarize the communication so much the people support the arguments or opinions or political tirades against leaders without fact checking.
The world has been rocked by social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube because the users of these social networks have already surpassed millions and are growing, but due to the limited regulatory framework, fake news, cyberbullying, extremism and terrorism has reached new heights.
The influencers’ interactions with social media users have polarized the political and social circles that led to the formation of online echo chambers, a tactic of social media recommendations by politicians to influence the users to strengthen their narrative regardless of facts that whether it is right or wrong, but it is knit in a manner that echo chambers appear to be normal for the people thus changing the way of thinking and increasing the supporters base.
The echo chambers post such content that we enjoy a lot while reading, while keeping us away from the content that may stir a debate or arguments or expression of our disagreement over certain social, economic, religious, cultural or policy matters.
The echo chambers keep ideas flowing on a regular basis to the one side –the positive side of the argument, while its negative side is deliberately concealed to hide the facts.
This is the big issue that might be discussed with students, who should be informed and taught at school, college or degree level so that positive and constructive use of this digital medium could be ensured.
Social media connectivity around the world is undoubtedly amazing but the problems it created for both people and students are very dangerous, and need to be addressed and regulated.
Digital media, especially social media, for a long time remained unbridled to post any content that may fall in the purview of hatred, racism, bullying, derogatory remarks, character assault, rebellion, or anti-state elements instigating people to create chaos using the olive branch of social media. Since it was not monitored given the type of content being circulated and the information of people posting such content, including their motives behind such content as may have a constant flow of information that is recommended by the users pretending to be professionals, experts and mentors.
Alarmingly, people without fact-checking go on sharing the content and thus creating hype for such an issue as does not have a basis and was the result of a conspiracy to exert pressure on some person or leaders to get some favours.
“The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.“
Sometimes, the active echo chambers or volcanoes erupt over such issues as may be beneficial for the wider circle of society, but this finds serious criticism masterminded by people with an individual approach. They term it detrimental for them since it did not serve their interests, though it might have been beneficial for general people.
Humans have an intuitional inclination to communicate with like-minded people or the people with the same choices on social media, thus the echo chambers get even stronger. The discourse that discourages dissenting voices always comes under fire from the thinkers and intellectuals of the nation since it is tantamount to concealing the facts from the people.
The world is coming closer after the covid-19 pandemic that engulfed the entire world, bringing misery and economic crisis. The social media debates go with biased and unbiased approaches regarding getting the vaccine. Some optimists termed it great, while some pessimists or biased approaches raised questions.
The echo chambers try to influence their opinions and win support.Similarly, echo chambers of both Democrats and Republicans only canvassed for their candidates but the leaders instigated the masses to attack Capitol Hill through social media and emotional speeches using their influence on social media, especially Twitter .
Some researchers have found that echo chambers influence people to win support but social media influencers have a follower-base of millions, and may polarize the public and politics, since influencers share success stories like internet marketers compelling you to buy their products.
The opinion leaders and experts reveal that for the last two decades, the percentage of American people having consistently holding liberal or conservative beliefs— rather than a blend of the two, which is the case for most people— has increased from 10 percent to over 20. Beliefs about the other side are becoming more negative creating an alarming situation.
Since 1994, the number of people who see the opposing political party as a threat to “the nation’s well-being or security” has doubled, which heralds how deepening polarization has predictable results raising eyebrows.
The government shutdowns, violent protests, scathing attacks on elected officials, the capitol Hill incident –all indicate that social media have been polarizing the political system and divided the nation each passing day due to echo chambers of both mainstream parties regarding the issues of health, security, human rights, employment and environment.
According to evidence from empirical research conducted on US politicians, politicians following extreme ideologies attracted a larger public audience than those who were moderate, which is the real example of echo chambers.
Usually, messages containing extreme thoughts, emotional instigation, patriotism, or criticizing the opposition received a warm welcome on social media platforms than those messages reflecting merely information.
The polarization of issues and political ideology will have serious repercussions in future that should be addressed on a timely basis so that societies could be saved from further isolation and disintegration.
The issues could be resolved through educating the people and creating awareness about the fair and professional use of social media channels for advocacy for winning support for legislation, an issue, a policy or employment.
Instead of showing the dark side of the issue, we have to educate people regarding both pros and cons of matters of importance for the general public rather than misleading the people with biased approaches to oppose the initiative of the government, community or civil society for the general benefit.
Social Media network operators are the bigwigs and the most influential in this.They cannot be controlled but only be regulated by framing such laws that may ensure fair use of this digital platform and are careful so that users may not face any legal issue by discussing sensitive issues such as desecration of holy places, religions, personalities, anti-state tirades, rebellion, terrorism, extremism and so on. The sensitive issue may stir protests and cause legal proceedings, if the cyber-regulatory laws are implemented to discourage the influence of one-sided opinions or campaigns.
We cannot deny the importance of social media platforms as they provide equal opportunity to people to express and share their thoughts or opinions, but safe and thoughtful use of these platforms will encourage healthy discourse and prove pivotal in promoting dialogue to discuss social, economical and cultural issues peacefully without hitting the sentiments of other communities.
Thus, echo chambers will be less powerful to build a narrative that is appealing but the readers will be engaging themselves in the debates that need interaction.
Undoubtedly, social media platforms have changed the political and social approach of the people and enabled face-to-face digital interaction through video and audio conference calls, so their fair use will mitigate their cons manifold.
The social media networks apply algorithms to connect you with like-minded people but it is up to you whether your engagement in communication is either unbiased or biased.
Social media should be promoting positive discourse to explore the political and economic solutions to the problems of people by reflecting the two sides of the coin so that the discourse be constructive and problem-solving. Social media has given a voice to marginalized people and governments are compelled to resolve the issues of people on a priority basis due to trending topics of social media.
Even the populist leaders may face resistance from social media as the public makes the most of the freedom of expression and criticizes the role of politicians for their failure to address the issues of the public.
In recent times, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been creating history in highlighting issues of both public and national interest but at the same time such platforms have been taken by storm by those influencers who continue to feed the news about their vested interests and create psychosocial hype for any issue that may jolt the power corridors of Government.
The politicians always take to Twitter for their precise viewpoint and policy debate and are usually followed by millions of followers. Even the print and electronic media take the tweets as policy statements or the narrative of some party or group.
The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.
Intense polarization and Pakistan’s democratic future
Pakistan has been a polarized polity and consequently, a divided society for the past half century, and even longer if we look back deeply into its history. It started with the serious differences among the political elites of the country over the character of the state, quality of federalism, relationship between religion and governance and ideological choices. One may argue that it could be a normal process in a diverse nation’s struggle to take a definite direction and achieve stability in the formative phase. But one wonders why it would take nine years in writing the first constitution and then its annulment within three years without any general elections or transfer of power happening under it.
Without getting into the details, it was the inability of the ruling elites, their diverse regional backgrounds, personal vested interests in power grabs, and for that purpose, engineering of political manipulation to wreck governments and forms new ones.
Factions of the same elite under different party platforms kept displacing one another from power endlessly until the military took over in 1959. There is another view that political elites were innocent and they were actually played against one another as puppets by the civil and military bureaucracy.
This is too charitable a perspective to excuse the political elites and their never-ending factionalism, which continues to this day, after a long history of 74 years. If they had played by the rules, demonstrated political solidarity on principles and forged a political consensus, the democratic norms and convention would have gelled over time. The recent ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan, despite the fact that he had the largest party in the parliament with 156 members losing power to a motley group of political factions, the closest second having only 86 members and forming the new government, speaks a great deal about persistent polarization. The sad story of Pakistan is that naked factional elite interests have shaped these power plays, often by seeking friendly intervention from the powerful judicial and security institutions.
Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, Pakistan’s political elites have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building.
The normal and expected role of the political elites in any form of political system is working toward stability, order, national unity, solidarity and continuity along with ensuring progress, social and economic development.
The Pakistani elites have done quite the opposite: polarizing and dividing people along ethnic, religious, ideological and narrow political lines. Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, they have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building in ethically and demographically diverse society.
Ultimately, it is the rapacious character of the Pakistan ruling classes, their low commitment to rule of law and accountability and access to power as means of material benefits that have stunted the growth of democracy. In such conditions, the military has assumed the role of ‘guardian’ of the state, and has regularly managed political conflicts erupting over power struggles among the elites.
The present polarization between the PTI and the rest of the 11 so-called political parties and factions is not new. It is a continuation of the same historical pattern, only the main characters have changed. Each successive confrontation has been more severe than before. The ongoing clash looks like political warfare with no-holds-barred, barely covered with a fig leaf of constitutionality. This has been in the making for the past nine years when Imran Khan challenged the fairness of the 2013 elections. The others, in return, questioned the accuracy of the 2018 vote and vowed to oust him from power by forming a joint alliance, launching street demonstrations, and finally succeeding by winning over dissidents from his party and coalition partners and moving successfully a vote-of-confidence motion in the National Assembly.
The sudden change of heart by four coalition groups supporting Khan and the open betrayal of 20 members of his party have raised many troubling questions about the neutrality of powerful state institutions. This adds another dimension to the political conflict playing out in media, civil society and the general public.
Khan has instantly decided to engage in popular agitation against what he calls an ‘imported’ government by weaving a narrative of foreign ‘conspiracy’ and accusing some as ‘traitors.’ His decision to resign from the national assembly en-masse is stunning and may prove to be an adventurous path to Azadi‘liberation’ for the country. He will be doing politics now not in the parliament but in the streets, rousing public anger against the ‘corrupt mafia’ and demanding fresh elections.
Democracy: A colonial hangover
The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities’
Right after the Second Great War, though the British did leave this continent for good, they left a mess for the people of the newly founded nations to collect. Oftentimes, while trying to rationalise their colonial past, many of its fervent advocates claim that one of the greatest things that colonised countries inherited, which they would not have otherwise, was the idea of democracy: A new system of governance. A facile narrative to cover their smelly past, but also a false one.
Like many other nation-states, Pakistan also adopted democracy at the time of its inception, taking its cue from the then supposed leaders of the world. It hoped that by doing so, it too would reap the benefits that democracy promised to bring along – equality, freedoms, free-market economy and stability. However, many of these states descended into martial laws under despotic rules or turned rogue. Pakistan’s own fate was no different.
Perhaps, there are inherent flaws that everybody tends to overlook because of the way it was delivered to us and by whom – our old masters giving us the parting gift. But why is it that, to date, the same system working with far greater efficiency in the West fails miserably in developing nations?
Free market is a preeminent feature of democracy and in theory, it was supposed to be the lodestone towards freer and more egalitarian societies. But all it accomplished in reality was a further chasm in inequality and degeneration into pure consumer capitalism. This marvel made it so that power would concentrate in the hands of the affluent, making it essential for the politicians to remain in their thrall if not from within them. This notion is precisely misleading when looking at western societies. The idea of social-welfarism – which began in the early 1900s only – bridged this gap to an ‘acceptable’ degree both in terms of social and economic equality. But can this ever be achieved in countries like Pakistan or India: Reeking of moral corruption, notoriously venal, elections manifestos premised upon intolerant suppositions, bedevilled histories and above all, rugged with indigence?
The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities. This perspective is not supposedly a new idea and was also put forth by B.R. Ambedkar at the time when he was penning the Indian constitution. The idea of an English democracy did not particularly resonate well with another leader of the Indian freedom movement: Mahatma Gandhi.
One might inquire the reason why these leaders were so sceptical of democracy. The answer can be found precisely in today’s time. Even a fleeting look at the Modi regime could call a day of reckoning for all purveyors of democracy: de facto martial law in Kashmir, systemic persecution (as witnessed in Gujrat) and discrimination against ethnic minorities, populism at its peak, leading India into regressivism – and all this being done by the ‘democratic power’ vested in Modi by the ‘largest democracy’ in the world. Maybe such foresight left some of the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement disenchanted with democratic prospects, fearing that such a system would spawn the same problems that they sought independence to curb.
Pakistan, billed as the single Muslim nuclear power has always had to maintain an international image. The problem with the image is that it is examined on western ideals of which democracy stands to be the single biggest factor, irrespective of how nominal it is. This ensures aid, loans, and all sorts of international support for said country.
If such a scene is set, how can really a country decide what system serves its people best? It is as if countries are being goaded into something simply because they cannot yet afford a dignified existence for their people. It is not to whinge that democracy is rooted in every problem or to anoint it with a gilded halo as the saviour of nations.
The point in matter is to maybe think beyond for more egalitarian and just systems of governance. To not only aim at democracy as a metric to be reasoned among civilised nations. To make it in essence, once again, the society of Lycurgus, the society of Plato, the society of Marcus Aurelias which could push beyond what they could see. These rusty gateways of discourse, which would require some pushing, need to be opened. Maybe democracy works, maybe it does not – but the answer, in the end, lies with the people.
LGs and welfare
WITH a renewed focus on conducting local government elections, the issue of grassroots governance has bounced back into the news and policy cycles. This is reflected in the various aspects of LGs being dissected by political and civil society stakeholders, and activities — including protests by political parties — to find better and lasting ways to improve local governance.
Historically, the local bodies, first introduced during Gen Ayub’s military regime, have waxed and waned in line with the wider political schemes of state managers. It is an open secret that LGs are strategically renewed by military governments for undermining the established local political elite and manufacturing into existence a new layer of more pliable grassroots leadership. Meanwhile, elected governments and political parties too have neither looked kindly on the prospect of LGs taking root for similar fears that their locally established leadership might be challenged by new political actors.
However, irrespective of the intention behind the strategic diminishment and resurrection of LGs, the consensus across the political and academic spectrum is that local bodies are the linchpin of service delivery and the chain of political representation. Moreover, their role as connectors of higher-tier government structures and grassroots also remains unchallenged. In this respect, while many aspects of LG service delivery roles are being pored over, the role as a deliverer and administrator of social protection programmes has not been given the attention it deserves.
In Western democracies, the political governance landscape is based on local parish and councils. It is unimaginable to see them knocked out of the political representation and service delivery chain. In the UK, without local councils administrating education, social welfare systems etc, the whole edifice of a unitary state would come crumbling down. In Pakistan, however, LGs have been turned off and on like tap water, discouraging the exercise of people’s right to local representation.
With LGs, Ehsaas can have a greater reach.
The role of LGs in the administration of social welfare programmes is by now also well established in the developing world. Brazil is both associated with introducing participatory budgeting at the municipal level and the use of LGs in the administration of its famed cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia. This model has been copied in the rest of Latin and South America with municipal offices playing an ever-greater role in the roll-out and administration of similar cash transfer programmes. Brazil’s municipalities are at the front and centre in managing its social registry, carrying out a broad set of functions including identification of low-income areas, registration of beneficiaries, data collection and verification, training and outreach etc.
In Colombia, LGs are responsible for processing new applications and updating existing beneficiaries’ data on a rolling basis. Each municipality signs an agreement with the national cash transfer programme, committing to specific obligations and responsibilities. Committees are also established at the municipal level to handle complaints and allegations of ineligible beneficiaries.
In Pakistan, however, the role of LGs in the roll-out and administration of cash transfer programmes has been not systemically thought through. One of the key reasons for this is the evolving and expanding nature of the Ehsaas or Benazir Income Support Programme and the uncertainty about the continuance and longevity of LGs.
However, now that LGs seem to be back in fashion, steps should be taken to make them a permanent feature of political representation and service delivery chains. Only when the LG system is allowed to put down roots and firm up its uninterrupted presence can we begin to think about ways to shoehorn social protection programmes into LG structures for ease and confidence of its beneficiaries.
As the Ehsaas programme expands, LGs can provide it with a firm foothold, acceptability and greater reach among the public. Pakistan should definitely learn from the pragmatic fusion of local bodies and social protection programmes for better service delivery and generating wider public involvement (and hence support) at local levels. Political parties also need to change course and see LGs as the permanent enhancer of representative and service delivery aspects of democratic governance rather than as competitors of established local elites. In the longer term, there is also a long-overdue requirement for conducting research into how the absence of LGs has contributed immensely to the crisis of democratic governance and falling standards of centralised service delivery that we see today.
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