Arguably the biggest development in the modern era in terms of usage, versatility, scale and scope, social media, has undeniably brought this world together in ways never before fathomed to be possible, and has connected humanity through a free, easy and simple manner.

Pakistan has also greatly benefited from social media as it has provided space to carry out activism and spread information and awareness. One cannot simply ignore the pros of this invention or negate what is has done to change the current status quo and how it functions. This does not, however, overshadow the exponentially growing manipulation and propaganda which this same tool is being used to spread.

As with every well-spirited and healthy-intentioned development, it was not long before man found a way to use social media for his own vested interests and personal agendas. This plague is evident in Pakistan, where this forum is used in countless ways with ill intentions and harmful aims, and which has caused this great prospect to be brought down in the eyes of many as nothing but a tool to spread fake news and propaganda.

Much of this problem arises from the fundamental condition of modern society itself, which leads itself into self-made problems head on and is way too vulnerable, malleable and naïve. People have grown to be overly complacent and this very attitude and characteristic has led to a vast majority of the Pakistani population believing almost everything they see online. This is just calling out and asking for sites to spread fake news as they wish, expecting and receiving a more than favorable turnout every time. This, if not highly problematic on its own, and used by anarchists wishing for nothing but the downfall of society, also gives heed to a much larger and dangerous problem; that of propaganda.

In today’s day and age, with non-state actors of all types and intentions gaining so much power online, it has become as easy as the press of a button to either make thousands your supporters or turn millions against a possibly innocent and honest rival. This catastrophic exploitation of the “freedom of speech” granted to everyone in a free, democratic society has caused seismic waves of violence, hate and discontent between factions unnecessarily. This has completely altered the entire democratic system of elections, the government’s image in the general public’s eyes as well as the image and reputation of anyone even barely famous enough to make an impact on others’ lives. A great yet controversial example of this very problem is the recent Pakistani elections held earlier this year, in which all parties involved at the helm of the competition were brought down by content that constituted utter and complete lies.

This is also a problem which does not have an easy solution, as stopping any sort of website indulging in such acts can be considered as infringing upon their freedom of speech, and can cause a massive uproar.

However, at the end of the day, it is up to us to assess whether all this is a problem associated with social media solely or whether it has more to do with the actual temperament and thought process of our society, which we must change up from the grass root level if we are to ever reach a true, free, honest and just democratic society.

SHAHMIR AZIZ,

Lahore, January 26.