In the world of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and MySpace, people have found ways to express themselves and many often exercise this liberty as they have every legal right to do. Yet many of these opinions are based on misinformation or ignorance. Absurdist claims, even by members of official news sources are unfortunately becoming quite common. An example of journalists spreading panic and disinformation follows. One seemingly ordinary day in February 2017, a loud blast was heard in the Y Block market of DHA, Lahore in Pakistan. Rumours circulated about how subsequent blasts were heard in the areas of Gulberg, and Mall Road in Lahore as well. In reality, there had been only one blast.

Agendas to discredit people can cause harm to people and puts them at risk. There was a time when the racist and religiously-biased lie of Pakistani politician Imran Khan being “a Zionist agent” was cited as fact by a gullible population being taken in by social media disinformation agents. Ironically, the person who complained to me about this conspiracy theory is also the same person who then postulated to me he would not put it past Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to be conspiring with India’s Prime Minister Modi, India’s premier spy agency The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) to cause bombings in Pakistan every time the PTI wants to hold a political demonstration. Likewise, I find opponents of the PTI who use the “Zionist Agent” to be just as ignorant of facts and potentially dangerous.

There is danger in spreading lies. Fake news, disinformation and ignorance cause an atmosphere of fear, distrust and violence. Being related to a state official, I’ve grown wary of aggressive responses to my profiles on social media. As a fully functioning adult studying politics with all my capacities intact I am technically allowed to have political beliefs of my own. Social media is now an aspect of every modern life, there is no avoiding it, and as a student of politics, I feel a pull to discuss my beliefs as well. Yet, when people hurl abuse at me for being an agent of some party or another because my beliefs might not match their political affiliations, I feel genuinely worried. Accusations can be taken literally by many people. Hurling vicious unsubstantiated claims because I don’t agree with your beliefs can be damaging to the image of my relatives and friends.

When it comes to politics, everyone claims to be a political expert but rarely does one find someone who has done their homework. Regarding a judicial decision discussion on a social website, I, in my capacity as a scholar of politics, once asked someone to read the decision before commenting on it like an expert. The person in question often gives opinions on political discourse and has some very strong convictions about her political beliefs. My reason for asking the person to read the decision was so that she would have direct access to the knowledge instead of getting it secondhand from often politically biased news sources or from fake news websites. The response I got was, “It’s my legal right to comment on what I want the way I see fit and if I choose to not read the document because I don’t need to, you should respect that” or something to that affect. If someone is going to comment on the quality of a legal document, and then challenge the views of a political scholar, it would only make sense to read the document to see what it says and what the nuances in the jargon state. My postulation to read the judgment instead of relying on the opinions of others makes even more sense when one looks at the varying opinions of multiple news anchors, many who themselves are uninformed or spreading disinformation or creating panic.

I recently found myself in a discussion about how a policeman who watched a crime take place should also have been charged along with the people who carried out the crime. In New York, Lieutenant Luis Machado recently found himself in trouble for an aggressive arrest. Policemen have a duty of care to the citizens and it is their job to keep the people safe. The incident to which I allude took place in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and a supporter of the KP government started giving me examples of police brutality in Punjab instead of defending why the policeman in KP who let the incident happen should remain free. That was not the subject of the discussion, that was a deflection of the actual subject. Deflecting facts and changing the subject are not examples of informed discourse. When I pointed out that the Punjab Police brutality and the KP incident were two different events and that I condemned them both, he stipulated that a member of the political party running KP was planning on addressing the law which causes that form of violence in the National Assembly. That was very welcome news for me and made me feel better about the situation but I never did get an informed answer to the opposition people had of incarcerating a policeman who let others commit a violent act. Ironically, a day after this discussion, the political party running KP made a very firm statement that it did not intend to pursue a change in the law and that they agreed with every aspect of it. This makes me think that either the person who had told me the news had gotten it from an obscure source or the political party that announced it did another one of its U-turns that it seems to be becoming famous for.

In another similar incident, regarding foreign funding of political parties and financial irregularities, another defender of the PTI kept changing the subject to lack of economic transparency by all the other political parties. Deflecting the subject at hand made no sense to me as that was not the subject. Yes, lack of economic transparency is bad and condemnable by all political parties, that does not excuse the PTI from engaging in it. Had the defense been that the PTI does not engage in financial irregularities, or that they are working to fix the issue, I would have felt the issue had been properly addressed.

When discussing politics, it is becoming more and more common to shut down your opponent instead of sticking to the facts of the issue at hand. I submit that our incumbent PM made a sexist remark about his political opponents this weekend. That is not something that the people of Pakistan should take lightly. When I mentioned this on Twitter, I found myself being given a lot of support for the tweet. Likewise, when I stated Shah Farman of PTI fame did the same to a female PPP politician, my Twitter account was bombarded with angry PTI supporters. Misogyny is misogyny and should be condemned universally no matter who it originates from.

We are all victims of our own political biases as they are inherently ingrained in us because we support the candidates that we do for whatever reason we do. That is not an excuse to either a) lie about the facts if they do not suit you, b) use another incident to make your political party’s transgressions seem smaller, c) change the subject so that the topic isn’t addressed or d) use fake news or obscure and unverifiable sources to prove a point. When people start to use either one of these excuses, one must wonder about their ability to ever be objective, politically mature and well informed adults.