Our country is fairly new to mass internet access and the wonders of connectivity it brings. For many these are uncharted waters; where there are few rules and even fewer people to enforce them. Yet as it was during the scramble for Africa or the colonization of the American west, the ones at the forefront of new frontiers are usually those seeking either profit, political power or both – by any means necessary.

Pakistan’s social media ecology may still be nascent, but powerful groups have already embedded their tentacles into these platforms. “Media cells” created – justifiably at first – by interest groups and political parties to amplify their narratives have morphed into completely different beasts altogether. Trends and hashtags that were used to draw attention to issues and act as a focal point for debates eventually became little more than partisan party slogans – a virtual shouting match fed by a rabid following. Up till that point the situation was still acceptable; while the loss of a mutual platform for civil debate in favor of rote regurgitation of party lines was still a regression, one couldn’t begrudge politicians their means of social outreach.

What we are witnessing now is more worrying. The same rabid following that participated in these harmless virtual shouting matches has now become a virtual mob armed with torches and pitchforks. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are now used to browbeat, intimidate and insult opponents. These are not isolated individuals venting their frustrations, but coordinated and well-funded organizations that mount these assaults. The latest deplorable attack on journalists is just one example – there have been many targets in the past.

While we can lament and condemn these developments, we can also investigate. There are “media cells” behind these coordinated posts, and political parties behind those cells; it shouldn’t be difficult to trace who they are. Our social discourse has become a cacophony of slurs and debate replaced by intimidation – the culprits behind their keyboards must be stopped.