Introducing the Digital Age
With the advent of every era, comes with it a number of challenges at the same time as opportunities. Challenges and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. Pakistan has its own challenges and opportunities in the realm of social media, particularly in 5th-generation warfare.
“Social Media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.” – Brian Solis
The historic era of the 21st century characterized by the rapid shift from traditional industry to an economy based on IT in which capitalist and social qualification sectors are committed to monetizing every aspect of human communication is the era called the digital age. It is also known as the information age where everything is dependent on the widespread use of the internet.
According to Collins Dictionary, a digital age is simply defined as “a time when large amounts of information are widely available to many people, largely through computer technology”. Life in this age is truly information-driven and fast-paced. The age of information has completely transformed lives and ways of life. Traditional and conventional shopping has been replaced by e-commerce and the rise in startups has become a digital disruptor of people’s lives.
In this age of information, social media is commonplace and the most pertinent tool of information. According to Statista, there were over 2.6 billion Facebook, 1 billion Instagram, and 330 million Twitter users in 2020. This internet-based form of communication provides humankind with various platforms allowing them to connect, communicate, share, inform or even disinform.
Rapid dissemination and amplification of the content and the ability to lead informal conversations make this platform of social media a powerful tool in multiple capacities, be it professional or personal.
Pakistan is exposed to a number of opportunities as well as numerous challenges due to social media. Talking about opportunities, social media has a great influence on youth when it comes to political awareness. Social media for the youth of Pakistan is a platform to enhance their political awareness and float their political ideas.
Moreover, in Pakistan, social media is a catalyst for communication and connectivity among the masses. It brings forward those stories and voices that traditional media aren’t willing to cover. A prime example would be the case of 2010 when video footage of a mob lynching two young brothers while the police idly stood by attracted attention only after being posted on YouTube.
Its biggest drawback would be its use as a tool of propaganda and disinformation. World Bank estimates that Internet penetration in Pakistan crossed over 10.9% in 2013. In 2021, the number of internet users in Pakistan skyrocketed to 61 million, ranking Pakistan ninth in the list of countries with the most internet users.
Social media has its pertinent role in advocating for social causes and issues. A key example is a web-based collaboration led by an Internet freedom group, Bytes For All, and the Pakistan Software Houses Association to promote the online security of young Pakistani women.
Furthermore, social media plays a key role in shaping international relations and connectivity as social media sites allow Pakistanis to connect with people all across the world. This helps develop interconnectivity beyond borders and cross-cultural experiences, paving the way to expand business and e-commerce as well as providing the masses with a golden chance to observe traditions and lifestyles globally.
The fast-paced invasion of social media puts overwhelming pressure on a country like Pakistan that lacks in economic and administrative resources and has weak bureaucratic institutions. The limited tech infrastructure puts Pakistan at a great disadvantage, serving as a severe challenge when it comes to interacting with western social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat to ensure fair play.
Moreover, there is a lack of awareness and policy on data governance. Both factors result in a lack of restrictions on sharing and uploading of information that further results in the unmonitored sharing of content that might be blasphemous, derogatory, and violate community guidelines.
The biggest challenge, however, that Pakistan faces in this digital age is combating 5th-generation media warfare in which social media plays a huge role. In this warfare, states target the psychology of their adversary to bring their morale down without even fighting a war. The Arab Spring of 2010 and the recent Russ-Ukrainian war are examples of 5th-generation media warfare where social media played a pivotal role in the local uprising and spreading disinformation about Donetsk and Luhansk region respectively.
In the digital age, where information is ever-evolving, social media is a successful tool of propaganda used for the spread of baseless and biased news, and disinformation with the purpose to manufacture and manipulate perceptions in a way that goes against the national interests of a state.
When it comes to Pakistan, social media spaces have been bombarded consistently with an onslaught of misinformation and disinformation, particularly the wave coming from India as well as Indian-sponsored organizations and the Indian government itself.
For Pakistan, the 5th-generation warfare is the greatest battle that is to be fought at two fronts: internally, with radicalized factors; and externally, to rise above the headlines like Pakistan a hard country to live in and Pakistan a terrorist state.
In short, there’s a lot of potential that can only be explored when social media is used rightly in accordance with and in alignment with the digital age in Pakistan. Social media platforms will continue to rapidly grow, change and morph as newer technology further unravels, so Pakistan must capitalize on its strengths, put down its weakness, and build on more opportunities to keep pace with developments.
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