Over the past two centuries, media has contributed to the promotion of democracy and making it stable throughout the world. Print media’s role in early 17th century when printing machine was invented was to inform the people, but with the passage of time it was extended to educate the people, mould public opinion and create cohesion in the society. Media to become a credible source, it should provide reliable and accurate information, and work with utmost diligence to offer reports and comments objectively. Analysts should present their analysis, which should be unbiased and free of prejudices. At the same time their analysis must lead to constructive recommendations for policy makers to safeguard the national interests; and of course national interests of different countries are at odds. Today, social media seems to be taking over print and electronic media, as the latter have commercial interest and is governed by rules and guided by some ethical norms.

With the advent of 21st century focus has been placed on social media, which means ‘online platform for interactive dialogue’. Social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube etc. The Facebook site originally was created for students of Harvard to get to know one another, but later targeted other colleges and universities as well, and now allows anyone above the age of thirteen to register. Other sites are targeted at “creating communities that allow people to keep tabs of their social relationships, as well as explore and find other people with similar interests and hobbies to form new relationships and networks”. We’ve indeed come a long way from communicating by the means of dots and dashes to using interactive multimedia content for communication, and from communicating in the planes of reality to diving into the virtual realms to communicate. We are indeed social animals, and are inclined to sniff out better, faster, and expansive means of communication that allow us to communicate more to a wider range of audience in less time.

Social media allows all of the aforementioned to be accomplished by the common man at absolutely no cost at all, or merely the subscription cost of an internet connection. Be it a politician, a businessman or people from middle class background, one can afford to use those channels of communication capable of delivering their message to a large audience, spanning across the country or even across the world. In fact, considering that even big businesses and political parties seem to have switched to social media, one cannot deny the power that social media has to offer to its user-base. In Pakistan, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf successfully used social media to first hold a successful meeting at Iqbal Park, and then did not look back. Today, in Pakhtunkhwa there is Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government, and on the basis of number of votes cast, it emerged as the third major party in Pakistan. There is a perception that the advent of social media was never intended for anyone other than the common man, and was never intended to be used for commercial purposes.

And the purpose of social media was originally intended for people all over the world to connect so as to share their ideas, opinions, thoughts, and creations. If one were to analyze various modes through which business firms called out to their targeted audience, a gradual shift starting from the print media in the early 20th century to television media, marketing always has been part of a firm’s objective. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein conducted a study in 2011 to illustrate the relationship between social media and viral marketing, while considering the conditions necessary for a successful viral marketing epidemic. The conclusion reached was that excessive planning while developing a viral marketing campaign can cause its failure.

Researchers at the University of Washington sifted through more than 3 million tweets, countless hours of YouTube videos and gigabytes of blogs to find out whether the internet, and social media services like Twitter and Facebook really played the revolutionary role many claimed they did. According to the study, online chatter about revolution often began just before actual revolutions took place. And social media also served as an outlet for citizens of the region to tell their stories of revolution, which played an inspirational role for neighboring countries, the study found. “Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising,” said Philip Howard, a University of Washington communications professor and the study’s leader. In Egypt, where the Arab Spring blossomed, Howard and his team found that the number of tweets that mentioned revolution in that country exploded from 2,300 per day to more than 230,000 per day.

The number of videos, Facebook updates and blog posts about government opposition also rose dramatically. Because Twitter users can send updates from any mobile phone, Howard says that platform offers the “clearest evidence of where individuals engaging in democratic conversations were located during the revolutions,” since many people in the region do not have standard internet access, but most do have a cellphone. Social media might not have played a revolutionary role, but it did play an instrumental role in the wave of “Arab Spring” revolutions that swept across parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa, a new study has found. But there is downside of social media also. There is virtually no control over the sites, and some of the users can misuse by giving false information or spread disinformation. Sometimes, the language used in the social media is highly objectionable. But, by and large this social revolution has changed our perception of who we are.

The writer is a political analyst and freelance columnist.