Waziristan march: Twitter beats mainstream media
The debate will continue whether Imran Khan’s march was a success or not, but what was unequivocally a success and went ballistic during the march to South Waziristan was the social media, providing the kind of information platform that even the mainstream media was not able to provide. Twitter being in the lead.
Interestingly, a larger number of tweets were coming from residents of Islamabad; some were even part of the march, while others were tweeting from the comfort of their living rooms.
With Twitter leading the way, there was no need to tune into the traditional media — television or newspapers — one could follow the march step-by-step on Twitter. In the words of Raza Rumi, Director Jinnah Institute — with a huge following on twitter — this is a new trend in politics.
“Imran Khan has been successful in utilising social media but that should not be translated as electoral success because it is an urban phenomenon,” opines Mr Rumi.
The march was definitely trending on Twitter. The tweeting could have been divided into two parts: For or against the march. But there was more to it than what met the eyes because behind the scenes things from a public event were turning personal.
As the marchers got closer, the tweets got hotter. It was no longer about Imran Khan or his march, it was about who will dominate the social media. Who will tweet the most thought provoking tweet. For many Twitteratis it was a make or break situation.
Mubashir Akram, an Islamabad-based media consultant who had close to four hundred followers, confessed: “I lost thirty followers on the day of the march.”
Why one asked? “Because some of my followers, even the ones I know physically, not just in the digital realm, felt that I was becoming too pro-Imran…Even though my tweets were only reflective…In the heat-of-the-moment sense…” says Akram as if trying to paraphrase some of his words.
Interestingly, most of Mubashir’s tweets were made from the comfort of his living room. But some of his followers thought that he was actually part of the march.
When asked why wasn’t he part of the march? He relayed an old leftist joke: “If one is not a socialist in his thirties, then one is without a heart but if one is a socialist in his forties, then one is without a mind.” The entire march had a cricket match type atmosphere.
Nilofer Qazi, an Islamabad-based social activist, began tweeting from the capital city as soon as she hit the road. Her tweeting starts out with a thought-provoking question: “When was the last time Waziristan was visited by friends and publicly — men and women — together aired their views? Isn’t that enough for democrats? “
Then it’s a mishmash of info, from smiley faces, pictures en-route till she reaches a spot where she spots Alya Malik, a female politician one has not heard of for some time. Ms Qazi’s tweet reads: “Very long line of cars, Ayla Malik waiting for PTI convoy.”
Then somewhere around Dera Ismail Khan (DIK), she tweets against Maulana Fazlur Rehman, using the popular sobriquet Maulana Diesel for him: “DIK source says Maulana Diesel accusing IK being a Jewish agent. Let’s check out Diesel’s Palace near the airport and ask how he paid for it? “
Then it goes on all the way to a spot where Azam Swati is negotiating with the Frontier Constabulary. The marchers weren’t allowed to go ahead but as they retrace their steps back to Islamabad, things already appear different.
According to PTI leader Jahangir Tareen’s tweet, there was “Zabardast Buzz” around the march, thanks to social media. Pakistan has had marches before — the march to restore the Chief Justice as well as marches by the PPP and the PML-N. But most of these took place before the advent of social media.
The Waziristan march, in this regard, was the first twitter rally. Will other political parties now utilise this tool as they put their political foot forward?