Candidates subjected to online abuse, misinformation in July polls: report

Updated December 08, 2018


The DRF finds that women politicians were more likely to receive comments that were personal in nature.— AFP/File
The DRF finds that women politicians were more likely to receive comments that were personal in nature.— AFP/File

KARACHI: The internet-driven 2018 general elections were marred by misinformation and fake news, and the candidates, particularly women, were subjected to online abuse in the absence of a code of conduct for digital poll campaigns by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), an election monitoring report has observed.

The Digital Rights Foun­dation (DRF) — a digital advocacy group — on Friday released its report titled “Participation of female politicians in Pakis­tan’s General Election 2018”.

The DRF found that women politicians were more likely to receive comments that were personal in nature whereas abuse faced by male politicians was focused on their political views.

Analysis of 43,372 comments from the Facebook pages of 43 women politicians from seven major political parties revealed that a majority of both abusive and unwelcoming comments were classified as political victimisation (49 per cent), with 25pc of comments classified as sexist, 23pc as personal abuse, 2pc as threats and 1pc as racist.

In terms of the number of active female politicians on social media, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was ahead of its counterparts Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). However, the report noted that although a lesser number of women politicians from the PTI were active online, they had more online engagement in terms of followers and response to posts than women of other parties.

The report observed that women politicians from the Awami National Party, PML-Q and PPP received a higher percentage of unwelcoming comments.

The report pointed out that there was no monitoring of social media activities by the ECP and the code of conduct for elections was not applied to the activities of parties online.

The DRF’s monitoring on July 24 revealed that social media campaigns of several major political parties remained active. It observed that Facebook and Twitter accounts of various parties, including the three biggest parties — PTI, PML-N and PPP — had been posting material that qualified as campaigning on their official social media pages.

It also noted that PTI’s Snapchat account (pti.imrankhan) was active after the deadline of midnight between July 23 and July 24. It said that SMS directed at the voters of constituency NA-131 by the PTI were also delivered after the ECP deadline for canvassing. A political party was streaming live through its YouTube account till noon on July 24, it added.

The report said that out of the 89 Facebook ads of major political parties monitored by DRF, 36pc of ads came from PTI’s official Facebook page, 32pc from Shahbaz Sharif’s Facebook page and 12pc from PML-N’s official Facebook page.

All the parties interviewed by the DRF indicated that they had experienced issues regarding fake news and propaganda through social media. However, the parties had no concerted strategy in place to tackle the issue, it noted.

Nighat Dad, executive director of the DRF, said: “Online spaces are emerging as a space for political engagement, but the experience of female politicians is qualitatively different and is marked by sexist and abusive comments online. We have seen that election activities on social media are wholly unregulated and not subject to the ECP’s Code of Conduct.”

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2018