In the aftermath of the Iranian elections, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world showed their support for democracy (or specifically, presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi) by joining Facebook groups, tinting their Twitter pictures green, and blogging. In early November, a campaign in support of Indonesia’s anti-corruption deputies clocked in over one million Facebook followers. And then, on November 9, 2009, over 100,000 Pakistanis wore green as a symbol of participation in the Hum Sab Hain Dhaani movement, a global event publicised through Facebook, Orkut, and word of mouth.
In the last few years, new media has played a pivotal role in raising awareness and mobilising the aptly dubbed ‘Generation Y.’ Terms like ‘retweet’ and ‘tweeps’ are quickly becoming part of the vernacular, and ‘unfriend,’ a reference to the act of deleting a person from one's list of acquaintances on Facebook, was recently named the New Oxford American Dictionary's ‘Word of the Year.’
Though social networking sites are arguably making the world smaller, promoting campaigns and ideas that transcend borders, many question the actual impact of these movements. For instance, does a Facebook group entitled, ‘One Million Strong to Alleviate Poverty,’ actually help in eradicating global poverty? In the case of Hum Sab Hain Dhaani, are we really impacting militancy in Pakistan by wearing green one day?
Anthony Permal, a Pakistani based in the UAE and a member of Future Leaders of Pakistan, said he came up with the Dhaani movement after a friend’s sister died in the recent International Islamic University bombing in Islamabad. In the aftermath, he noted, ‘there were two common feelings…despair and disunity.’ Permal felt he was tired of waiting for someone else to do something and ‘decided to be that someone.’ The mission of the movement is simple – create hope to dispel the despair and create unity to prove to the perpetrators of such bombings that we, as Pakistanis, are united.
In a country where the median age is 20.8 years, campaigns such as the Dhaani movement are significant because they capture and harness the passion of Pakistan’s youth. However, given that the country’s literacy rate is nearly 50 per cent, and a much lower percentage of that number speak English and are computer-literate, the youth that are part of these movements may reflect the elite more than the majority of the country. Nevertheless, they are a small but increasingly vocal demographic, a generation that stands to inherit Pakistan one day.
The transnational nature of these social networking sites also means that online movements can tap into a much wider audience, allowing Pakistanis within the country and abroad to connect with one another and disseminate information quickly. Interestingly, the near-anonymous nature of some tools, particularly Twitter, also allows for a more egalitarian exchange of ideas, and promotes this sense of users becoming active participants in opinion formation, rather than passive consumers of information.
During the Dhaani movement, participants included citizens in Pakistan and those of Pakistani descent living in 20 countries, from Yemen, the UAE, and Malaysia to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The global nature of such a movement, instilling a sense of Pakistani civic duty and responsibility, in turn fosters a broader transnational collective identity, a phenomenon in of itself.
The difficulty many of these online campaigns will inevitably face is turning this momentum into tangible change. It is one thing to preach lofty ideals of ‘hope’ and ‘unity,’ but quite another to go beyond abstract rhetoric. While many campaigns fall prey to this trap, the Dhaani movement has a sustained vision ahead.
The campaign, which falls under the umbrella of Future Leaders of Pakistan, a non-profit youth leadership organisation committed to Pakistan's development, will not only hold another commemorative day on March 23, 2010, but the Facebook group also encourages all participants to visit the FLP website and learn about the group’s activities and find ways to get involved in opening local chapters, rural development, literacy efforts, and electoral oversight. This leadership is key, particularly since new media messages by nature tend to become decentralised and diluted as it spreads.
In order to truly foster this younger generation of Pakistanis, organisations must stay connected, stay true to the pertinent issues affecting the country, and find ways to be innovative with the new media tools that are increasingly at their disposal.CHUP: Changing Up Pakistan and tweets at twitter.com/kalsoom82.
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