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KARACHI, July 13: From an online campaign to get visa restrictions on both sides of the border eased to using social media for change and expressing opinions that the mainstream media might not be interested in, discussions on day one of the two-day 2012 Pakistan-India Social Media Mela gave a chance for ‘alternative’ viewpoints to be heard.

The event, organised by US consulates general in Karachi and Lahore on Friday, saw social media practitioners from both sides of the border under one roof.

In his speech, US counsel general William Martin said that social media often highlighted the issues overlooked by the mainstream media.

Calling it citizens’ diplomacy, he hoped that both sides of the border would see stronger ties and make the most of common opportunities.

India, Pakistan and mutual goals

Though the highly anticipated session ‘The promise and perils of social media’ by Indian journalist Burkha Dutt could not take place as she had some visa and flight issues and things went down after a Skype call failed due to technical glitches, she did get her point across. She called for launching an online campaign to help ease the visa trouble of people of both countries.In her presentation ‘Pakistan and India: bridging the trust deficit’, journalist Beena Sarwar gave a round-up of peace initiatives taken on both sides of the border.

Venkat Anand, a cricket columnist from India, gave a rundown of how Twitter changed his life. Mentioning that the microblogging website was current, he said: “I don’t watch news on TV any longer”.

Virtual warriors

Riding high on the success of ‘Wadera ka Beta’, Ali Gul Pir and Ali Aftab of ‘Aaloo Anday’ took part in a discussion titled ‘All the world is a stage: the rise of the viral video’. Moderated by columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha, the discussion focused on how the alternative platform that social media offers could be utilised to highlight the ills in society. On his part, Mr Gul deftly and wisely warded off criticism of his song by many who took it as an insult towards Sindhis.

Meanwhile, Raheel Khursheed whose website has been instrumental in carrying out online campaigns for social causes said that ‘clickactivism’ did lead to change.

Changing lives

Despite its boring title, ‘Social media in the classroom’ by Saba Haji from Indian-administered Kashmir turned out to be uplifting and inspiring. Running a school in the remote mountain village of Breswana in Doda, Jammu and Kashmir, she said she used social media, be it youtube videos for training her volunteers or facebook and twitter to get the word out. Ms Haji said that the kindness of strangers allowed her students to experience schooling in a different manner.

Commenting that phone lines were disconnected during the 1990s in the area by the government due to ‘security’ reasons, she said:

“Thanks to a cellphone and 2G network, we have been able to explore unlimited possibilities.”

During a panel discussion titled ‘Haunted: what you post online never goes away’, panellists discussed cyber safety and how seemingly harmless posts might lead to trouble in the future.

Social media firing squad

With Marvi Sirmed, one of the panellists, along with Ms Sarwar and Mahreen Kasana, ‘The Maya Khan takedown: in praise of ‘slactivism’’ discussed the power of social media.

It’s not just one TV anchor rather the entire mindset that needed to be changed, said Ms Sarwar. She noted that had it not been for social media, Khan’s ‘exploits’ would have gone unnoticed.

Ms Sirmed pointed out that a lot of content on TV was there due to ratings and its popularity amongst the masses. She said: “Such things have been happening for years. As it is, we are surrounded by madness and there are very few who think progressively.

“People were offended by the show and hence decided to speak up,” she said.

During the question and answer session, some participants spoke about limitations of the mainstream media, including the demands by channel owners for getting higher ratings that in turn lead to revenue.

Lazy ‘tweeting’

Indian journalist Karuna John, associate editor at, discussed ‘The need for speed: ethical reporting in a hyper connected world’.

“I use Twitter to get breaking news as it spares you the song and dance drama that news on TV has,” she commented, adding, “Breaking news is never good news but it puts junta on alert.”

Saying that Twitter is now the ‘new ticker’, she added that it promoted ‘lazy journalism’ wherein young journalists often gave in to the temptation of ‘free lunch’ that it offered without realising the implications.

While the event offered a platform for voices to be heard, it also highlighted the rift between mainstream journalists and ‘citizen journalists’.

“It was interesting to note that little tolerance was displayed when journalists voiced their opinion while the musings of bloggers were shown as ‘facts’ when everyone knows that most of them are just armchair warriors who get their claws out after a news has been reported,” remarked a TV anchor.