A social media revolution in the making in Pakistan?

Indonesian bloggers Hanny “beradadisini”,  Nonadita and Unspun were fortunate enough to be invited to Pakistan’s 1st Social Media Summit on June 11 in Karachi. We had a fabulous time and observed that the energy, behavior and enthusiasm of the 150 or so bloggers who attended, if they were indicative of the online community there, was reminiscent of Indonesia about five years ago – when social media use was on the verge of  a take-off.

Since those days Indonesia has seen a phenomenal growth in the use of social media,  in an era where the online community has been able to assert its influence in politics, start social movements and, for many Indonesians, see it as a source of income whether they are buzzers, endorsers, brand activators, site owners or owners of virtual outlets.

One of the things we found was also that the Pakistanis are also very articulate and eloquent. One of them, who was a key participant at the summit, is Bina Shah, a writer, columnist, author of the book Slum Child and prolific (and fun) Tweep (@BinaShah). Below she writes in an Oped piece for Dawn newspaper her observations of Pakistan’s online developments since the summit. More evidence that Pakistan’s online community is on a take-off trajectory?



Social media revolutionBy Bina Shah

AFTER the recent successful Social Media Summit in Karachi, a number of people have started paying attention to the bloggers, the Twitter users and the Facebook addicts.

The realisation’s sinking in that social media isn’t just a game or a useless pastime. Summit attendee Mohammed El Dahshan, an Egyptian blogger who was at the forefront of the recent Egyptian revolution, spoke movingly at a panel about how Egyptian bloggers reported on both technical and social matters during the days in which Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power, gaining the trust of the people who could no longer rely on the government to tell them the truth about their country.

From this we can extrapolate that in countries like Pakistan, the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook users are the ones who

will lead the way to drastic change in Pakistani society because these people are the true revolutionaries in stagnant societies:

young, educated, progressive, eloquent and completely dissatisfied with the status quo, but still optimistic and idealistic

enough to actively foment change, rather than sinking into cynicism and passivity.

Pakistanis who use social media formulate ideas, discuss them freely with their peers, with intellectuals and with those leaders who are intelligent enough to have caught on to the zeitgeist. They argue vociferously, disseminate information and they meet, both in virtual space and real space. They make plans for action, and then they carry them out.

Twitter accelerates the energy promulgated by social activism; bloggers think, analyse and interpret the news in a deeper way than mainstream media; the Facebookers build strong social networks based on personal credibility. It all comes together in what’s been jokingly called ‘the Twitter hive mind’, or ‘crowdsourcing’, where the minds of many people work together in a virtual environment to come up with ideas bigger than what individuals can generate. This is where social media derives its power.

Continue Reading here.

Pakistan’s greatest asset?

Unspun, together with Hanny Kusumawati and Anandita Puspitasari, were invited to participate in Pakistan’s 1st Social Media Summit on June 11 in Karachi. We didn’t know what to expect and was bushwacked by a deluge of warm Pakistani hospitality and enthusiasm. Hanny has written here very eloquently about the welcome we got and the feelings it evoked.

US Consul General in Karachi William Martin called the event a social revolution here and there was also TV coverage on the event

Here’s an oped piece I wrote for a Pakistani paper on the day of the summit itself that may, or may not, be published. No news about that and the shelf life is expiring, but the beauty of being a blogger is that you can self publish. So here it is:

Quick, which country am I talking about?

It has a moribund economy and is plagued with endemic corruption, natural disasters, poor tax collection, terrorist bombings and little legal certainty. In addition the government shows little political will to reform matters and the digital broadband is slow, yet it has a nascent but very active online community.

Most Pakistanis, a least those who attended the panel discussion at Pakistan’s 1st International Social Media Summit, thought it was their own country.

I was in fact describing Indonesia – circa 2007.

This was the time just before Indonesia’s economy took off and social media use became so widespread, the country is now being looked up to for clues on how to use social media for business and social movement purposes, and how individual members of the online community could monetize their online efforts.

But I could just easily have been describing Pakistan today.

It faces much of the same circumstances that Indonesia faced then, and the possible bright future that awaited Indonesia subsequently. Pakistan, from what I was able to gather from conversations with many Pakistani bloggers and people over the past 48 hours since our group landed in Karachi, also has a vibrant and online community, eager and hungry to experiment and find contentment if not financial success online.

By coincidence 2007 was the year we first organized Pesta Blogger giving bloggers throughout Indonesia an opportunity to gather, meet and exchange ideas offline. Many of the meetings resulted in projects and collaborations. It also spawned new communities to support and encourage each other on. These weren’t the sole reasons but it helped Indonesia develop into the social media powerhouse it is today, and with it a new sense of pride and confidence in themselves and their country.

In my conversations with many Pakistanis they were quick to complain about the ills and wrongs of Pakistan. Then I asked them the trick question: If you had only one thing to be bullish about where Pakistan is concerned, what would it be?

They thought and scratched their heads but the predominant answer I get from then is the people.

Pakistanis, they said, at the end of the day are a warm, generous and hospital people and although their may fight among themselves they will not hesitate to come together as a people and achieve great things.

And there you have it.

Pakistan may have many problems but it also has a great asset that is yet to be realized and untapped: its people, with the onliners at the fore because this is where change will happen.

The Social Media Summit has brought the Pakistani online community together for the first time. Hopefully this will lead to the collaboration and camaraderie that we saw in Indonesia.

If this can happen then the online community can perhaps help influence the future history of Pakistan for the better. Pakistan has many good and powerful stories to tell, to the world at large, but more importantly to itself. It has all it takes to move forward, the community now just needs to work together and believe in its greatest asset.