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The social media wars in unconventional battlefields

Social media is now an indelible part of the South Asian political landscape.

The modern day concept of battle is far from what it was decades ago.Now, a web within a web of the technically advanced world, battles do not necessarily take place on the ground but in the networks of the virtual world that is fast blurring the lines between reality and fiction.Originally the idea of now what is termed as the “social media “, was to bridge the gap between people, which grew from keeping in touch with acquaintances to interacting with people in another corner of the world.The growth in the social media industry was remarkable as it transcended beyond its actual purpose. Now a multi-dollar industry, social media has redefined the meaning of war with its power to mobilize and influence millions in a blink of an eye, irrespective of the time and location.

The free and uninterrupted flow of information with interconnectivity among people leads to forming of different narratives. Although diverse in subjects, the narratives unify at certain levels of interaction and become powerful enough to sway the workings of a body, hence the evolution of the term “war of narratives”.

This unconventional battleground called social media has become a priority to understand, adapt, improvise and use by not only the governments of the today’s world but also the militaries.

One of the leading names in the social media industry is Twitter, a networking service available to millions across the world including Pakistan and India and is used according to the desires of the individuals or groups residing in both countries. The latest spark between the two rivals took place in late hours when Pakistan Defense, a pro- Pakistani account was suspended on reports that it violated certain policies of Twitter leading to a battle of narratives.

The threefold reaction involves the Indians, who cheered Twitter’s action against what they deem a prominent pro- Pakistan profile backed by the military of Pakistan. Second, the Pakistanis themselves who take the words of Hall (“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it “ ) in the truest of its meaning and the third fold falls in neither mentioned bunch.

Like Pakistan, India too maintains numerous accounts on Twitter which actively propagate their animosity towards Pakistan. The issue of Kashmir, for instance, be it on the floor of  United Nations or a social media site like Twitter, is a sensitive usually heated topic; more so if mentioned by Pakistan. To counter the Kashmir card, Indian accounts play the Baluchistan card.  False information or what some refer to as “disinformation” in case of Baluchistan is propagated on Twitter and other networking sites more often attached with gruesomely doctored images.

“Pro- Pakistan” groups such as Pakistan Defense and many others identify and counter the false images or information and hence remain a target for the rival country. For similar reasons, as in the case of suspension of Pakistan Defense, many Indian accounts have been reported to Twitter but appear to go unnoticed, making many question the rules and regulations on which Twitter operates.

With a huge following comes the question of credibility. The more reliable the content, the more power it holds against the opposite narrative.In such a situation the best bet by the opposition is to spread the false narrative to such an extent that it replaces the truth. The smart use of social media is the ability to cross verify information in any form; importantly when it is being used to counter the enemy’s narrative.

Narratives built on social media by groups or organization like Pakistan Defense, shape certain perceptions in the off-line world but have a strategic impact. A relatively newer term known as the “net-troll strategies “ describes the ripple effect created by initiating a discussion ( with a certain narrative)   among the like-minded, which indirectly reaches the intended audience. While such accounts exist across the world, those in Pakistan lack behind in keeping a unified front and openly display their disagreements.

The implication of social media in the context of the war of narratives has had many organizations reviewing their policies and rules of engagement to minimize the spread of false information. But how and when does an organization know that the policies it has set, have managed to strike a balance in the “war of narrative?  So far, for the followers of Pakistan Defense, the account remains suspended but voices for it to be resumed are flashing on twitter feeds.

P.S. Word of wisdom for those behind the account Pakistan Defense: be smart but not too smart that it costs you, your honor.

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