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Social media minefield

BY A B B A S N A S I R | 6/17/2017 12:00:00 AM

IN a polarised milieu, calls for accountability may mean anything from simply an
expectation that the rule of law will be upheld to seeking freedom for a lynch mob to
run amok with a hangman`s noose. God help you if you are caught on the wrong side of
the fence with the wrong interpretation.

The Panama Papers leak and the resulting demands for accountability in Pakistan`s
charged political environment, with many visible and invisible players on opposing sides,
meant that the Supreme Court was tasking itself with a near nowin case.

Honestly, it was courageous of the Supreme Court to take up the matter as a lesser,
albeit lawful and constitutionally formed, forum could not have had the credibility or
authority to defuse the crisis after the names of the prime minister`s familynguredin
theleaks.

Many commentators like myself have made the argument that somehow accountability
has mainly focused on the civilians who have governed the country for a little over half
its life as (often junior, given the policy no-go areas) partners with the military.

But the military that has ruled in a far more absolutist manner has never really been
held to account, neither for its constitutional transgressions and excesses nor for the
ruin some of its policies have brought to the country. It is true. But that debate is for
another time.

One can be certain that today`s independent superior judiciary will focus on the law and
its violations, if any, and won`t concern itself with the (impossible for it to ascertain)
aspirations of the people.

If the court upholds the law in letter and spirit, its decision ought to reflect the public
sentiment, unless we assume that the public wants something else. Those on different
sides who claim access to a public `desirometer` are talking nonsense. The rule of law
should count and not their rants.

Many major TV channels and newspapers reflect the political divide in the country and
quite blatantly take the side of the PML-N or the PTI and its perceived backers, having
consigned neutrality and impartiality to obsolescence.

One major disadvantage of such partisan coverageis that theirjournalists and their
star`anchors`by and large preach to the already converted.

There is little overlap or civilised exchange of views, ideas or positions, and most people
seem to turn to a channel whose thoughts somehow echoes their own.

But such silos do not exist on social media where, for example, the Twitter timelines of
various people represent a much richer mix of positions even ifthey only `follow` those
who ostensibly mirror their thinking as they might see third-party views via retweets for
instance.

Once out of their comfort zone and confronted with a diversity of opinion that their own
conscious choice has made them alien to, some of these party diehards act with an
incredible amount of aggression and self-righteousindignation.

They will spare no epithet to vent their anger at someone who is merely expressing an
opinion different to theirs. The PTI was the first out of the blocks with a well-organised
social media team where the members launched attacks on anyone perceived as making
an unfavourable comment.

The governing PML-N probably realised it had conceded a huge amount of space to its
arch-rivals and since the last election put in a concerted effort to build its own social
media team which now seems capable of matching the PTI insult for insult.

The PPP was slow to catch up. It now has its own social media team too but the state of
this entity mirrors the party`s fate as it has had very little impact. Although far more
polite than the other two, its members have scored own goals by sometimes offending
people who could be seen as sympathisers.

However, nobody matches the PTI supporters onsocial media in terms of the attacks
they launch on anyone for `stepping out of line`. They seem to have invented the term
`lifafa` (visualise an envelope bulging with cash bribes for maximum understanding) and
use it liberally for the most upright of journalists.

I happen to be a feminist and take umbrage to misogynistic comments. So when (de


jure) Defence Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted a rude remark ostensibly directed at a
woman politician who left the PPP to join the PTI, I took the liberty of criticising him and
called him a `serial offender` Only a trained psychiatrist may be able to explain Khawaja
sahib`s obsession with constantly calling women tractor-trolleys and dumpers, as it
seems rooted in some past trauma to do with women and having been dumped or told
to make tracks or who knows what.

While the PML-N followers largely ignored this criticism of one of their leading lights,
their political opponents seemed to be applauding rather enthusiastically. The next day
PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry called the PML-N government `motu [fatso] gang`.

At this, I dared to mention the two in the same sentence and expressed the desire to
see/hear better language and content in the country`s political discourse. Lo and behold!
I was attacked, called a lifafa and what not.

You have an opinion and use social media, you find yourself at the receiving end of
virulent attacks untempered by any hint of tolerance or even an understanding of issues.
One has to develop a thick skin.
You could also say adieu to social media as some milder folk have done but I won`t. Hate
the thought of being run out of town by thugs and hooligans. To me, the sweet gain by
following informed people with a great sense of humour and history will never equal the
bitter poison carried by some others.

That`s why I am staying well away from selfharm and not taking a position on the JIT.
Also, I am prepared to believe for now, at least, that whatever the final verdict of the
Supreme Court, the latter will uphold the law and principles of justice. • The writer is a
former editor of Dawn.