The arrival of the internet is, no doubt, the most defining moment in our history. Social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp, have become powerful instruments to play a prominent role in fuelling social change – both negative and positive.
Digital technology and social media had facilitated Obama’s presidential election campaign. It also had a significant role to play in the Arab Spring. Today, all organisations, including the traditional media, are utilising the internet and social media. All national and international newspapers are available in the form of e-papers. Television channels are offering livestreaming options and mobile apps on their respective websites to attract more viewership.
Being active on social media is considered to be a social marker for everyone, regardless of whether they belong to the ruling class or the common citizenry. On the other hand, the widespread use of social media has given rise to a number of serious concerns – especially in developing countries like Pakistan – about the authentication of information. If you search for a renowned personality or celebrity on Facebook or Twitter, many results will appear. It will be difficult to identify which account is real and can be relied upon.
A worrisome situation occurs when baseless statements are attributed to such fake accounts and garner the attention of the traditional media. Frequent complaints about the character assassination of political rivals by paid social media cells are also on the rise. A political party is allegedly involved in promoting the misuse of social media in Pakistan.
Fake Twitter followers and spam accounts seem to be a growing problem and are being used to make trending topics more popular than they actually are. Moreover, fake photos and video clips that posted on social media platforms after any major natural disaster or accident quickly tend go viral. Situations such as the rise of blasphemous content and unjustified propaganda against the armed forces and judiciary occurs are particularly alarming for all of those who want to positively utilise social media.
To encourage the positive use of social media, the presence of fake accounts must be discouraged There was a time when telephone users received dozens of calls from wrong numbers on a daily basis. The introduction of the caller line identity (CLI) facility played a pivotal role in dealing with this problem. A similar identification mechanism is needed for social media as well.
Committing defamation by maliciously spreading false and fabricated information is considered to be anti-social activity throughout the world. Many anonymous websites have been blocked in the UAE while online activities which target another state are described as “electronic warfare”. Parents are advised to keep an eye on their children to inform them about the potential risks of misusing social media.
The situation in our country is quite sensitive. Every second anonymous website or social media account is actively involved in spreading one-sided propaganda and conspiracy theories while ideological conflicts among different countries are being intensified on the digital front of Pakistan. A serious issue involves the use of immoral language against opponents. Strengthening the role of the editor of news websites is also in the best interest of bloggers as it will help them win the trust of their readership by providing authentic news content.
A nationwide awareness campaign is required to highlight the importance of using social media for the betterment of society. We can also draw upon religious teachings to put the message across. Internet users must understand that they are accountable to God for all deeds while using the internet. They must realise that sharing of fake information is akin to committing a sin.
Now when the biometric verification of all SIMs has been completed throughout the country, there is a need to devise a mechanism whereby internet users will only be able to use social media after registering their mobile numbers. This has been observed at the airport in London where a local mobile phone number is required to enjoy free Wi-Fi. Biometric-verified mobile number will ensure that social media is used in a positive manner as the internet user will fear being caught for abusing regulations. This will also prevent various social evils related to terrorism and online fraud.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar deserves appreciation for his efforts to ensure the positive use of social media. While the incumbent government is committed to regulating social media, it is also the responsibility of all segments of society to ensure the successful implementation of regulations.