ISLAMABAD: Social media has been the foremost battleground between political parties in recent years, and after going at each other on Twitter where they unleashed hashtag after hashtag day and night, the ‘war’ has now moved to another social networking platform.

On TikTok, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) hashtag, “Imported hukoomat namanzoor” reached record viewership of 933 million while on Twitter, the same hashtag boasted over 100 million tweets in the last week of April.

TikTok is the world’s largest video-sharing platform that has not been taken very seriously by mainstream political parties thus far. That is, until PTI supporters took it by storm.

Possibly taking a cue from the massive viewership of pro-PTI videos on TikTok, PML-N Vice president Maryam Nawaz recently held a meeting with the social media team of her party.

Announcing the gathering on Twitter, the PML-N tweeted: “A delegation of PML-N tiktokers met PMLN leader Maryam Nawaz at Jati Umra,” signifying that the party had plucked out a group from its social media team dedicated to the video-sharing app only.

Social media expert Muhammad Imran, who has received extensive training in the medium in China, believed the massive popularity gained by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during his party’s ‘Awami March’ on Islamabad and the overwhelming response on TikTok to the recent activities of PTI Chairman Imran Khan have taken their political opponents by surprise.

“The PTI should be credited with making the PML-N and PPP shift their focus to social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” Mr Imran said, adding, “But these platforms have a higher degree of restrictions even on political activities, therefore TikTok is a good option to share anything and everything for the PPP and PTI.”

He added that the PPP’s ‘Awami March’ got limited coverage on mainstream media and a similar trend was witnessed on the popular social media platforms, while on TikTok, the hashtag #longmarch recorded 83.2m views and #PPPlongmarch 32m.

The PTI clearly has an edge over all the political parties on social media, not only among its workers, but also in its support base. Even while Imran Khan was the prime minister, several hashtags initiated by his party crossed the 77m viewership mark on TikTok. Some hashtags even saw unexpectedly enormous numbers, including #pmimrankhan with over 264m viewers, #imrankhan with 580m, while #ImportedHukoomatNamanzoor” (in Urdu) had 933m views in the last week of April.

The head of the PTI’s social media team, Dr Arsalan Khalid, too expressed surprise and said the numbers on TikTok were an accidental discovery and his team cannot take too much credit for this success.

“We were mainly focused on the urban class and some people shared some funny old videos that would further our party agenda, but it triggered enthusiasm among TikTokers, pushing the views to millions,” he added.

Observing the development, Maryam Nawaz held a meeting with her close aide and MPA Sania Ashiq to discuss the issue, and Atif Rauf, the unofficial head of the PML-N social media team, was tasked with gathering a separate group for TikTok only.

On April 22, the PML-N’s TikTok team, led by Saud Butt, was announced to push the party on the short video-sharing platform. Having made his debut on the platform in April 2020, Mr Butt so far has over 1.9m followers and his videos have crossed 94m likes.

Meanwhile, a senior official at TikTok in Dubai told Dawn in response to a query that although it was an entertainment platform, all types of content was allowed to be posted as long as it did not violate the Community Guidelines.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2022

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