Gone are the days when newspapers and television were the only opinion makers; in these times, social media has been the biggest disseminator of knowledge among people of all ages. Social media has had undeniable impact on politics and world affair with its quality of accessibility enabling outlets like Facebook and Twitter to tarnish political personalities, trigger movements and even interfere in elections.

The side-effects, however, of unaccountable influence and unsubstantiated news, are formidable and have had devastating consequences. The world has seen the real life dangers of social media with the United States 2016 election, where Russian agencies were able to manipulate platforms by creating thousands of fake accounts and advertisements to illegally influence the US elections.

If the leader of the free world can fall prey to foul interference, then elections in vulnerable democracies like Pakistan are at high risk. This is why Facebook has claimed to have enhanced security measures ahead of the July 25 polls in Pakistan. According to Facebook’s spokesperson, the social media company had taken a number of steps to protect elections from abuse and exploitation, including enhanced security measures to protect pages of political parties and candidates, improving the enforcement of its ads policies and greater ads and page transparency, better use of machine learning to combat fake accounts, and working to reduce the spread of false news. The company is also said to be working with the ECP to increase transparency and security in respect to social media.

The revolutionary effects of Facebook and Twitter have not skipped Pakistan. We have seen the positives of social media activism, which has provided for dissemination of political knowledge to a previously indifferent nation, and has spread awareness on rights movements which would otherwise not be allowed to be broadcasted on official channels. Unfortunately we have seen the deep negatives as well, instances where social media has enabled the spread of fake news, and made it easier for people to throw blasphemous and unsubstantiated claims against each other.

These are the first Pakistani elections where social media has played a strong part; already campaigns are being fought and trends are being assessed through Facebook and Twitter. Illegal interference through manipulation of these online platforms is a very strong likelihood. Thus, vigilant inspection of Facebook and similar platforms needs to be a priority for ECP and Fafen, and further pressure needs to be put on these companies for increased security and transparency.