is programme associate with the Asia Program at the Washington, DC-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is responsible for research, programming, and publications on South Asia. Much of his work has focused on resource shortages in Pakistan. He was th...
Social media in Pakistan: catalyst for communication, not change
Michael Kugelman, 15 August 2012
This report surveys social media in Pakistan. It identifies five ways in which Pakistan’s social media act as communication tools: they break or give greater attention to stories ignored by traditional media; they play a mobilisation role by disseminating information about protests and other social campaigns; they promote humanitarian efforts by co-ordinating and advertising initiatives; they serve as advocates for social causes; and they stimulate communication between politicians and their constituents.
The report discusses why social media tools in Pakistan cannot presently produce large-scale change. One reason is that Pakistan’s traditional media outlets already serve as change agents and co-opt social media’s ability to serve this role. A more fundamental reason is a low penetration rate.
The risks posed by social media in Pakistan include their succumbing to the same ideological divisions that afflict Pakistani society and even becoming a haven for extremist online communication. Another risk is that the lack of regulation will produce unethical content.
Europe can help mitigate these risks by sponsoring projects that develop guidelines for appropriate content and by supporting initiatives that promote tolerant online communication. Donors can also assist by strengthening technical capacity (through funding broadband Internet expansion efforts) and sponsoring research on social media.