We live in an era where political leaders have become social media savvy & political parties give priority to their image over the internet. Sadly, this has also helped to create a polarized political environment. Aggressive opinions tend to gain higher traction & it contributes to forming a mainstream opinion of a party’s support base. Certain opinions also help create a toxic culture of political discussion. Therefore, I feel Pakistanis collectively need to re-evaluate their behavior for political discussions over the internet.
Let us assume 2 Pakistani netizens named “Imran Butt” & “Maryam Niazi”. Imran is a hardcore PMLN supporter & Maryam is a very passionate PTI follower. Imran & Maryam here will help me explain some common flaws present within Pakistani internet space for discussing politics.
Conversation no 1.
Imran: Look at the dollar rate. We are doomed!
Maryam: Its better to let market decide dollar rate than keeping it low via artificial means like taking loans!
Imran: Oh come on, look at how economy is being destroyed due to rising dollar rate!
Maryam: Its better than the looting your party’s govt did in their last tenure!
This conversation is not focused on discussing a comprehensive solution to revive Pakistani economy. It is focused on leg pulling of PTI Government & shaming of past PMLN Government. A society that tends to give priority to negative thoughts during random political conversations cannot be expected to consistently produce leaders with positive mindset of being focused to attempt tangible solutions & avoiding the urge of petty point scoring against political opponents.
Conversation no 2
Maryam: PMLN promoted a culture of corruption at all levels of state, from bureaucracy to judiciary to media.
Imran: PTI is the most incompetent government in Pakistani history
(50 comments later)
Imran: PTI inner circle itself is extremely corrupt as shown in Pandora papers
Maryam: Look who is talking, have you forgotten Panama Papers?
There is an intense desire here to win this political argument no matter how many comments it takes. It is like a boxing match where the winner will be awarded a huge number of likes & it will feel like a world heavyweight championship victory. Our constitution demands this country to act like a democracy but its netizens like to live like cavemen where fingers are ready to be sacrificed for the cause of posting comments at rabid speed to drown out counter-narratives.
Conversation no 3.
Maryam (sharing a video clip): Excellent watch to understand how corruption in previous governments destroyed Pakistan.
Imran (sharing a news article): Excellent read to understand how incompetence causes the highest level of damage to our business growth.
Maryam: This newspaper is known to be anti-PTI. Just read their recent editorials as they don’t even give proper credit to good work done by PTI.
Imran: You are talking as if your favorite TV channel is very neutral. Their anchors get handpicked by Prime Minister for exclusive interviews.
Instead of focusing on actual content shared in video & newspaper, the conversation has boiled down to “shooting the messenger”. I have personally observed that when Pakistanis face some uncomfortable content that does not suit their pre-established political narratives, a common reaction is to try & discredit the source with maximum aggression so that they can retreat to their old comfort zone. In all this mudslinging, the actual content that was supposed to be discussed is forgotten.
Where are we going as an electorate?
There is a very popular viewpoint among many white-collar Pakistanis that democracy is a flawed system for Pakistan because of one-man-one-vote rule. It makes the vote of an educated Pakistani equal to an illiterate Pakistani. However, I have observed that educated Pakistanis are collectively very far away from being a democratic entity in true spirit. We are all flawed with limited knowledge.
How can we improve as a society if we are not open to exhibiting patience when it comes to political discussions that push us out of our mental comfort zone? In the era of social media, I believe that educated Pakistanis have a moral responsibility to show more maturity when it comes to discussing politics. The reason is that whatever you say on social media has the ability to shape opinions on a large scale. Social media does not depend on celebrities to build narratives. A common citizen can also play a big role if his/her viewpoint is strong enough.
In conclusion, there is no shame in losing a political argument on social media. For me, the bigger insult is that you shamelessly hold on to a flawed political opinion without even being open to discuss it rationally & lowering your aggression to defend it to the last MB available at your internet package.
The writer is an IT Consultant by profession but he also retains a deep interest in following politics, cricket & football. He tweets at @naveednadeem91. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.