PESHAWAR: The candidates and political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have adopted social media as one of their main sources of motivation and persuasion to influence voters in the ongoing election campaign. However, most of them are also using it for trading allegations, defaming rivals and attracting public attention towards them.

In the past elections, the candidates would largely focus on display of banners, posters, door-to-door contacts, newspaper ads and conveying their message in a decent language while speaking at public rallies.

However, it has been observed during the campaign for July 25 general elections that politicians have changed their attitude and hardly lose chance to defame their rivals.

Parties and candidates have hired experts to run their campaigns

Asked about use of social media for their campaign, some of the candidates said that they could not afford charges of print and electronic media advertisements. They said that social media was the cheapest source to convey their messages in the shortest possible time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be virtually no official restrictions on misuse of social media as one can see use of derogatory language, caricatures, allegations, fake posts, etc. The election commission and other relevant departments also seem least bothered to take notice of such unethical things.

During visits to different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was observed that the political parties had hired services of IT experts, journalists and poets as PROs and formed media teams to run their campaigns. Almost every team runs a separate web page and ensures live streaming on different organs of social media, particularly on Facebook. These teams prepare attractive posts sometimes with derogatory words to damage rivals and muster support for their favorite candidates with ‘fake’ likes and followers.

Many of the satirical video clips, especially with dubbing, are also a source of entertainment for general public. The political media teams not only ensure live coverage of their own rallies and public meetings, but also focus on events of their opponents so as to catch their mistakes and present them to the viewers.

It was observed that many of the people are sharing fake fatwas (decrees) attributing them to known religious scholars and leaders in support of own candidates. They also share jokes regarding each other’s election symbols. The politicians changing their loyalties are openly criticised as ‘lotas’.

It was noticed that some of the politicians have been accusing each other of playing a role in amendments in laws pertaining to religion. The caricatures and cartoons show candidates bowing before the people to beg for votes during the campaign.

The social media is also an easy source of communication for neutral people, who highlight their local problems pertaining to shortage of drinking water, lack of natural gas, electricity outages, dilapidated roads, etc.

In case of derogatory news the people usually serve legal notices or claim damages, but in the social media they don’t waste time and show immediate reaction through uploading posts. Sharing fake data about development schemes and allocations is also common. The abuse of social media results into a negative impact on the society because majority of the people use the androids and avail of the social media.

The political parties have arranged their own songs usually played on eve of rallies and their workers have made them as ringtones. For the candidates, using the social media pages and websites are the easiest ways to telecast their interviews, manifestoes and messages. Many of the mediapersons have also made social media as a source of income by arranging paid interviews of candidates and political leaders. Unfortunately, most of the social media users are unaware of the fact that by indulging in unethical practices they are causing irreparable loss to others.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2018

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