Social media – a changing discourse of electioneering

Social media - a changing discourse of electioneering
Social media - a changing discourse of electioneering

ABBOTTABAD, Mar 27 (APP): Nobody can deny the role of social media in our daily lives as a tool for routine communication, shopping, knowledge sharing, opinion making, online education, medical treatment and discourse in all walks of life.

Whether we are literate or illiterate, living in urban or rural areas, like it or not, social media has become an integral part of our life. During the last few years, a new breed of social media experts have emerged in Pakistan that are attracting millions of followers by using Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, Ticktock and many other platforms.

Viewing it from political angle, social media has also brought about a dramatic change in electioneering even at grassroots level as witnessed during the first phase of the Local Body election campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Its manifestation could also be witnessed in district Haripur where a young independent contender Sami Ullah Khan fully benefited from this tool to win Tehsil Mayor seat by defeating two seasoned PML-N and PTI ticket holders.

“Before the start of the election campaign, nobody was sure for such a great success. We had started our drive with a clear objective to reach maximum people and spread the message of young and new politician to voters in the constituency,” remarked social media expert Rameez Romi who was in-charge of Samiullah’s social media team.

“Some of the live broadcasts and social medial posts had crossed 5 million hits during the month-long campaign. We believe it as one of major causes behind our win at a place where strong political opponents were not even sparing a single column space in newspapers for news of our candidate,” he said.

Rameez said his team had recorded several videos and audio messages of Sami Ullah Khan for all corner meetings and public gatherings besides preparing flyers for Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter. “We fully benefited from this tool by issuing messages and audio and videos for each political activity and live broadcast of events.”

He said attracting people to a new and young candidate has never been an easy job and our three-member team had to work 15 to 20 hours daily on social media during the month long campaign. “We had formed a network of social media users in all union councils of Tehsil Haripur who actively ran the campaign of social media to spread the message of the candidate across the constituency.”

The main groups, he said were further linked to small groups in villages and remote areas. “This made us reach the maximum voters even in the areas where physically travelling was a bit harder.”

Learning from the experience of first phase, candidates contesting in districts Abbottabad and Mansehra during the second phase have also started banking on this media side by side physical campaign.

“During this phase, many candidates contesting for Tehsil mayor have also hired social media experts and influencers to run their election campaign,” Rameez said.

When contacted General Councilors and other candidates of Village Councils (VCs) in far-flung areas of district Abbottabad and Mansehra, more than 40 percent among them said, they were also using social media as a tool for canvassing the voters besides traditional methods of pasting banners and posters.

“Although I am not well versed with social media tools but keeping in view of its importance my young supporters have launched a massive campaign on Facebook and WhatsApp,” said General Councilor candidate for VC Jhangi III Abbottabad Arif Mughal. “By the time, we have received positive response and shall continue our campaign till March 30.”

Another general councilor candidate from Mansehra, Saeed Awan said his campaigners are also utilizing this tool for running his campaign. “Its reach is amazing and it is much cheaper than the traditional methods of advertisement. So, we are fully benefitting from both; the social media and banners, posters and wall chalking.”

Right now more than 20 social media groups comprising 50 influencers are running the paid election campaign for candidates in nine Tehsils of district Abbottabad and Mansehra.

Syed Kamal Shah, a journalist and Social medial expert acknowledged that digital and social media had brought a revolution in the traditional advertisement methodology. “Our youth is fully employing this media for linkages and communications.”

He said,” we have seen that even less educated people and those living in backward and remote areas are linked to social media and anything published on it gets an immediate response.”
Kamal opined that after effective use of social media in national and provincial politics, its use has now trickled down to district, tehsil and even village level elections. “This time, the contestants of local government elections are also fully utilizing these tools.”

He pointed out that even despite poor signals in hilly areas, the candidates continue to use mobile phones and internet to reach out to voters living in difficult areas at a high altitude up to 9000 feet.
Kamal was confident that during next national and provincial assemblies’ elections, the share of social media in electioneering would increase to 60 percent no matter these are hilly or plain areas or the developed cities or remote villages in Sindh, Punjab, KP, Balochistan or Gilgit Baltistan.