Pakistan’s webscapes are often considered to be unchartered territories, with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) insofar completely failing to produce a solid policy to govern the interwebs other than frequently banning YouTube and websites it considers ‘anti-Pakistan’ (the most recent being Beyghairat Brigade’s new music video that targeted the country’s powerful military establishment). More importantly, the irrationality and ridiculousness displayed by individuals on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter has surpassed all limits. Cyber-bullying, abusing, slandering, dogmatism, racism, and all sorts of indecent behavior is a common occurrence these days. One interesting fellow thought my questioning of Musharraf’s conduct in the Lal Masjid operation and mentioning the fact that 50 or so unnamed graves exist today in its aftermath was probably because the women of Jamia Hafsa were my “moms n sisters” and not because any sane sole would investigate the real identities of those who were killed in the operation.
Coming to the point, with the rise of popularity of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), social media witnessed the creation of an entirely new breed of political ‘trolls’ (previously only associated with jingoists like Zaid Hamid). These young lads achieved new heights of absurdity in their aim of defending their ‘Quaid’, Imran Khan. From consistently referring to the Sharif brothers as ‘ganjay’ (bald) to calling the calling the party ‘Noora league’, they didn’t leave a single opportunity to target the PML-N. So much so that the party itself had to eventually create and propagate a ‘social media code of conduct ’ for anyone associated with PTI. Now, gladly, as that’s over and PTI’s supporters do partially follow the code, the rest of the country’s political parties still remain unaccountable and unstoppable and numerous individuals have become collateral damage in these parties’ campaigns of personal attacks on each others’ leadership and candidates.
One recent example is the case of Abdullah Khan, a student and acquaintance from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Over the past one week, Abdullah has been targeted numerous times by supporters of the PML-N, particularly, and other parties, generally, just because of his resemblance to Imran Khan. Facebook became flooded with images of him attending the PTI rally on Lahore’s Mall road in close proximity to the PTI chairperson. The images alleged that Abdullah was Imran Khan’s son and is going to join politics soon. The primary purpose was to personally target Imran Khan, who has repeatedly hit out at parties that have resorted to family-based and ‘dynasticism ’ to maintain their hold in Pakistan’s politics. For the record, Abdullah is not Imran Khan’s son nor does he have any intentions to join Pakistan’s dirty politics. However, once the images went viral on anti-PTI pages on Facebook it was too late to undo the harm.
Even the Election Commission has turned a blind eye to instances of such behavior. All over the world, it is a norm for Internet regulators and Election authorities to create policies that penalize parties and individuals who resort to personal attacks and slander in the course of electioneering. Any claims that have no factual basis (as in case of Abdullah Khan) should be punishable under law with charges of libel on the claimant. The so-called ‘well informed’ media instead of clearing up the misinformation is making millions by airing advertisements of political parties which openly make personal attacks against each other, while giving no thought to their disrespectful nature.
Another recent case was of a well-known a Bangladeshi blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was brutally murdered after he struck out on the country’s right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami, whose leadership has been found guilty of aiding and abetting the Pakistan Army in its 1971 War of Independence. He featured prominently in a community of online activists who are using social media to generate support for their demands of death penalty for those found guilty. Consequently, his demands led to him being first targeted online and then murdered by supporters of the Jamaat. As a result, the country was swept by wave of mass protests, first by the activists, and then by the Jamaat to counter them, which left even more people dead. Wouldn’t much of this have been avoided if Bangladeshi authorities had a proper framework in place?
It might be justified to note here that this is completely reflective of how uncivil, dogmatic, and ignorant our society has become. Most people would rather choose to use utterly absurd insinuations than actual reasoning to further their arguments. Abdullah Khan is just one of hundreds of individuals whose personal lives have been affected in the course of these elections. At least the politically non-aligned caretaker government should try to play a positive role and curb the sort of offensive political campaigning out parties are using. Or will it take an episode similar to that of Bangladesh for the authorities to wake up?