By Dr Farrukh Saleem
A political party in Pakistan with specific political objectives is hell-bent on snatching these objectives by inciting public resentment and trying to erode trust in Pakistan’s critical institutions. The party has ‘weaponized’ social media and is spreading misinformation attempting to sow discord within our society. Such tactics also pose a serious threat to the integrity of the democratic process.
As a society, it’s crucial for us to understand how algorithms utilized by popular social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok operate. Even if content is untrue, if it generates a lot of engagement, it gets amplified and spread widely. The problem arises when the interests of the social media user and those of the platform intersect, leading to the amplification of misinformation that can be detrimental to society. Remember, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are commercial enterprises all out to make money – and tons of it. Collectively, six companies – Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok – make around $200 billion a year (roughly seven times Pakistan’s annual exports).
Then there’s the virality aspect whereby social media algorithms prioritize content that is likely to go viral or be shared widely. This means that posts that generate a lot of engagement and shares in a short amount of time are more likely to be shown to more people. This also means that false or misleading content that is sensational or provocative is more likely to be shared and spread rapidly, even if it’s not true.
We must not allow anyone the use of divisive tactics in order to gain our support. We must not allow Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to create divisions within our society so that they can make their $200 billion a year.
Yes, ‘computational propaganda’ is being used to manipulate public opinion. Yes, social media is being used to spread propaganda and disinformation about Pakistan’s armed forces, creating doubt and mistrust among citizens and soldiers. Yes, social media is being used to spread propaganda that portrays the armed forces in a negative light. Yes, false information is being spread about our military’s capabilities, operations, and leadership to undermine confidence in the armed forces. It is crucial for all social media users to exercise caution in the interest of our national security. To be certain, the politics of lies erodes peoples’ trust in democratic institutions and processes. Yes, politics of lies ends up in the amplification of extremist voices. Yes, politics of lies leads to a loss of faith in the electoral process and ultimately a weakening of democracy.
It is important for all social media users to remain vigilant. We must not become tools of political parties in spreading their dangerous propaganda. We must not blindly share. We must not believe everything we read or see on social media. We must be critical of what we read. And, it is imperative to fact-check information, particularly when it concerns Pakistan’s critical and vital institutions
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org