Pakistan Elections 2018: Significance of Social Media, Minorities

Pakistan's 46 million young voters of ages 18-36 years, up from 41 million in 2013, will likely have the biggest impact on the outcome of the elections this year.  Among other notable changes in the electorate is the number of non-Muslim voters that has jumped 30%, significantly faster than the 23% growth in overall voter registration in Pakistan since the last elections in 2013, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Pakistan's young demographics and soaring use of social media platforms will almost certainly have a major impact on how political party candidates reach out to voters in general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election campaigns and outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by both domestic and foreign players. It is a fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year.  Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.

Young Electorate: 

There are 17.44 million voters between 18 and 25 years  and 28.99 million between 26 and 35 years. These 46 million young voters, up from 41 million in 2013, will likely have the biggest impact on the outcome of the elections this year.

Pakistan's online population of over 55 million is predominantly from 18 to 35 years age group. Social media platforms will play a very important role in reaching this demographic group to bring them out to vote.

Social Media Campaigns: 

Major political parties, particularly Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are keenly aware of the importance of social media in the upcoming elections. Both parties have very active social media teams on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms.

Foreign actors may also try to influence Pakistani elections in the same way that the Russians are alleged to have influenced recent elections in the West.

Social media news feeds are driven by users' profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices.  Newsfeeds are customized for each user. Any posts that don't fit these profiles don't get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to promote divisions and manipulate public opinion in the West.  Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation.  It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan will exploit these divisions for their own ends. Various pronouncements by India's current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.

Pakistan Voter Population by Age Groups. Source: Dawn

Electoral Map:

There are nearly 106 million registered voters eligible to vote in general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018, says the Election Commission of Pakistan.  This figure includes 59 million male and 47 million female voters.

Punjab tops the list with the largest number of registered voters with a total of 60.67 million,  23% increase from 2013. It is followed by Sindh with 22.39 million registered voters, 18% increase over 2013.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the third largest province with 15.32 million registered voters, 25pc higher than 2013.  Balochistan has just 4.3 million registered voters but it's a increase of 29% over 2013. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have 2.51m voters.

Among other notable changes in the electorate is the number of non-Muslim voters that has jumped 30%, significantly faster than the 23% growth in overall voter registration in Pakistan since the last elections in 2013, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Hindus make up the bulk of the non-Muslim population in Pakistan. Their numbers increased from 1.6% to 1.73% or 3.593 million individuals, according to 2017 Pakistan Population Census.

The population of Dalits (Kohli, Bheel and Meghwar communities in Sindh) has also increased from 0.25% to 0.41% of the total national population. Together, the Hindu and Dalit population adds up to 2.14% of the total population.

Krishna Kumari Kohli recently made history by becoming the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman Senator in the upper house of Pakistan, according to media reports.  Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Hindu population of the areas that now constitute Pakistan was 15% in 1931 India Census. It declined to 14% in 1941 India Census. Then first Pakistan Census in 1951 showed it was 1.3% after the massive cross-border migration of both Hindus and Muslims in 1947. During the partition, 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India from what became Pakistan, while 6.5 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan. Since 1951, the Hindu population of what is now Pakistan has grown from 1.3% to 2.14% now.


Pakistan's young electorate and soaring use of social media platforms will shape the election campaigns of major political parties in this year's elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by domestic and foreign players. It's fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year.  Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.

Related Links:

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Social Media: Blessing or Curse For Pakistan?

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Lowdown on PTM and Manzoor Pashteen

Use of Social Media in Pakistan Political Protests

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Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan’s “war generation”, now aged 18-25, comprisesome 17.5 million people, or 17 percent of the voting public, and could have the decisive say in Pakistan’s forthcoming general election on July 25.

Unlike their elders, their ballot box decisions would not be moulded by the power struggles of competing political dynasties predating their births. That is particularly true of middle-class youngsters in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, once the epicentre of the TTP rebellion.

At the last election, the province maintained its historic tradition of voting for a different party every time, elevating Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from the political wilderness into the national limelight. If he is successful in his bid to become prime minister, Khan must persuade KP voters to kick the habit.

Crossing the confluence of the Indus and Kabul rivers, the natural border of hilly KP and the rolling plains of populous Punjab, I wondered if Khan’s rallying call of “change” had convinced first-time “war generation” voters from the urban middle class - on paper, the natural constituency of the PTI. Their importance lies not so much in numerical strength as in their influential role as social trendsetters.

In Peshawar’s affluent University Town shopping district, I find that they—like their contemporaries in Islamabad—are focused on aspirational goals, many of which fly in the face of the conservative traditions embraced by the narratives of political parties.

Take, for instance, 21-year-old Noreena Shams, an energetic young woman who manages to pursue multiple careers as an engineering student, businesswoman, education activist and professional sportswoman with equal determination.

She is the survivor of a TTP vehicular suicide bombing attack which destroyed her family’s home in July 2010. Located next to the entrance gates of a paramilitary fort in Timergara, the administrative centre of northern Dir district of KP, the house was routinely in the line of night-time fire from TTP militants entrenched on facing hillsides. As such, the family was not particularly perturbed when shooting erupted around 1am that fateful night.

Rather than evacuating the upper storey bedroom they shared, they dozed until the suicide vehicle, under fire from troops in the fort, crashed into the wall of the property and exploded. The force of the blast tossed the family from their beds and rained shattered glass on them.

In an interview with TRT World, Noreena recalled dragging her physically disabled elder sister Sairah from the room and fleeing with her mother and three other siblings to the basement of the partially collapsed structure.

“The house was practically destroyed. Our servant, who was sleeping in the hujra (an unattached reception room), was convinced the entire family had been killed. The local community was amazed we had survived,” she said.

Since then, she has defied the ultra-conservative social mores of her native Dir, which had prompted her parents to name their third daughter Noorena; in Pashto. It means “no more girls”.

Having started playing sports with her brothers and soldiers from the fort while disguised as a boy named Noor Islam, she has become Pakistan’s No. 2 woman squash player and is ranked 118 worldwide.
Riaz Haq said…
A game of votes: Some interesting stats about Pakistan’s General Elections 2018
Most Popular Party? Highest Turnouts? What if most of TLP voters voted for PMLN?

Province Wise Analysis
Province Total Registered Total Polled Total Rejected Turnout % Rejection %
Punjab 60,646,558 34,321,422 910,492 56.59 2.65
Sindh 22,392,999 10,554,507 408,520 47.13 3.87
KPK 17,600,839 7,530,245 241,505 42.78 3.21
Balochistan 4,300,040 1,854,889 104,357 43.14 5.63
Pakistan 104,940,436 54,261,063 1,664,874 51.71 3.07
National average of Turnout was 51.8% and Rejection was 3.1%. All provinces other than Punjab had lower Turnout and higher Rejection than the National average. Sindh was close to National average in Turnout and KPK was close to National average in Rejection.

Top 10 Parties in Pakistan
Party Total Votes Total Seats Poll % Seat %
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf 16408879 116 30.90% 43.00%
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 12595438 64 23.70% 23.70%
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians 6849586 43 12.90% 15.90%
Independent 5894539 13 11.10% 4.80%
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan 2341685 13 4.40% 4.80%
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan 2138038 4.00% 0.00%
Grand Democratic Alliance 1257351 2 2.40% 0.70%
Awami National Party 790038 1 1.50% 0.40%
Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan 729767 6 1.40% 2.20%
Pakistan Muslim League 515258 4 1.00% 1.50%
Riaz Haq said…
The bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with mobile phones
Long-established politicians are being confronted by youths disappointed their leaders are not living up to their campaign promises and videos of the encounters are going viral

The crowd of young Pakistanis, many armed with mobile phones, surround the politician’s car and begin streaming live footage of something extraordinary: angry voters asking their elected representatives what have they done for them lately.

A titanic 46 million people below the age of 35 are registered to vote in elections on July 25 – many of them savvy social media users who are posting videos complaining about the powerful.

In one clip, influential politician, landowner and tribal chief Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan is filmed in his car in the central city of Multan surrounded by young men chanting “thief” and “turncoat”.

To be held accountable in such a public manner is virtually unheard of for most Pakistani politicians, especially in rural areas where many of the videos have been filmed.

There feudal landowners, village elders and religious leaders have for decades been elected unopposed. Many are known to use their power over residents to bend them to their will.

Dubbed the “electables”, these politicians command huge vote banks. Most also take a flexible approach to ideology, and are highly courted by political parties, who view winning their allegiance as a passport to power.

But videos like the one of Bosan have gone viral in the weeks leading up to the polls, shared thousands of times in a country of some 207 million people, of whom roughly a quarter use 3G and 4G internet, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.

They have also made their way on to Pakistan’s numerous and raucous television channels, ensuring they are also broadcast to audiences without access to social media.

Analysts are watching closely to see whether these moments of accountability might disrupt the way the major political parties have long relied on rural politicians and their huge vote banks as a short cut to power.

The videos’ popularity is a sign of simmering resentment against corrupt politicians among Pakistan’s youth, said Sarwar Bari, an analyst at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a democratic watchdog.

Historically apathetic, young Pakistanis first emerged as a political force in the 2013 elections, when a generation who grew up idolising cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan voted for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in droves.

Under-35s represent a massive proportion of the total electorate of 106 million voters registered in the 2018 elections.

More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time.

The Asia Foundation noted in a recent report that many young people are increasingly engaged in the democratic process, usually through social media.

If so, and as concerns over election rigging mount before the vote, the impact of uncensored content such as the viral videos could become significant, analysts say.

“Social media has emerged as a democracy strengthening tool,” said Shahzad Ahmed, director of Bytes for All, a digital rights group.

Bari, who predicts a “massive” election turnout, said if even half the young voters who have seen and shared such videos go to the polls “it will strengthen the trust of the people in the democratic system”.

Pakistanis only started to receive high-speed mobile data in 2014 and its use has spread at one of the highest rates in Asia.

Access for young people to social media is helping to create a more democratic and participatory form of government, said Maham Khan, a 21-year-old student of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam university in Islamabad.

“Basically the youth is actually using social media ... to bring about slow social revolution,” she said.
Riaz Haq said…
Facebook Says It Removed Pages Involved In Deceptive Political Influence Campaign
Tim MakJuly 31, 20181:06 PM ET

Facebook announced Tuesday afternoon that it has removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts or pages involved in a political influence campaign with links to the Russian government.

The company says the campaign included efforts to organize counterprotests on Aug. 10 to 12 for the white nationalist Unite The Right 2 rally planned in Washington that weekend.

Counterfeit administrators from a fake page called "Resisters" connected with five legitimate Facebook pages to build interest and share logistical information for counterprotests, Facebook said. The imminence of that event was what prompted Facebook to go public with this information.

In a blog post from the head of Facebook's cybersecurity policy, the company says that those accounts were "involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior" but that their investigation had not yielded definitive information about who was behind the effort.

However, Facebook's top security officials said the campaign involved similar "tools, techniques and procedures" employed by the Russian Internet Research Agency during the 2016 campaign.

There are not many details presented about the origin of these pages, but there is a link established between a page involved in organizing Unite The Right counterprotests and an IRA account.

Facebook noticed that a known Internet Research Agency account had been made a co-administrator on a fake page for a period of seven minutes — something a top Facebook official called "interesting but not determinative."

The actors behind the accounts were more careful to conceal their true identities than the Internet Research Agency had been in the past, Facebook said.

While Internet Research Agency accounts had occasionally used Russian IP addresses in the past, the actors behind this effort never did.

"These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we've taken to prevent abuse over the past year," wrote Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook. "For example, they used VPNs and internet phone services, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf."

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee were less reserved about placing the blame for this campaign on the Russian government.

"The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system. The Russians want a weak America," said Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of that committee.

Added Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, "Today's disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation."

This most recent political influence campaign consisted of pages with names like "Aztlan Warriors," "Black Elevation," "Mindful Being" and "Resisters."

The pages were created between March 2017 and May 2018 and had a total of 290,000 followers. Over this time period, they generated 9,500 posts and ran 150 ads for about $11,000. They also organized about 30 events, only two of which were slated for the future.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan Protests Over Acquitted Christian Woman #AsiaBibi Fizzle Out. Tehreek-e-Labbaik #TLP, which petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi, had called for new rallies after the top court this week threw out its petition.

Pakistani police have fired tear gas and wielded batons to disperse a rally by Islamic radicals in the southern port city of Karachi against the acquittal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

But despite the Karachi violence, nationwide rallies the extremists had called for on Friday against Aasia Bibi's freedom mostly fizzled.

Bibi had spent eight years on death row on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, which petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi, had called for new rallies after the top court this week threw out its petition.

It had also urged businesses and transport operators to strike but the call was ignored.

There were scatterings of small rallies against Bibi in northwestern Pakistan and the capital, Islamabad.

Riaz Haq said…
The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights.
Pakistan’s powerful military is trying to crush a nonviolent movement for civil rights.

By Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen

The government ignored us when these militants terrorized and murdered the residents. Pakistan’s military operations against the militants brought further misery: civilian killings, displacements, enforced disappearances, humiliation and the destruction of our livelihoods and way of life. No journalists were allowed into the tribal areas while the military operations were going on.

Pashtuns who fled the region in hopes of rebuilding their lives in Pakistani cities were greeted with suspicion and hostility. We were stereotyped as terrorist sympathizers. I was studying to become a veterinarian, but the plight of my people forced me and several friends to become activists.

In January 2018 Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model and businessman from Waziristan who was working in Karachi was killed by a police team led by a notorious officer named Rao Anwar. Mr. Anwar, who is accused of more than 400 extrajudicial murders, was granted bail and roams free.

Along with 20 friends, I set out on a protest march from Dera Ismail Khan to Islamabad, the capital. Word spread, and by the time we reached Islamabad, several thousand people had joined the protest. We called our movement the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, or the Pashtun Protection Movement.

Ours is a peaceful movement that seeks security and political rights for Pashtuns. Apart from justice for Mr. Mehsud, we demand investigations into the killings of thousands of other Pashtuns by security forces and militants. We seek an end to enforced disappearances.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan says normalcy returns to former Taliban stronghold

Residents say they are happy about the return of peace.

"Taliban are gone and we pray that they don't come back," said Tahseen Ullah, a local resident who sells cooked rice in the Miran Shah bazaar.

Another shop owner, Khadim Hussain, complained that residents still face lengthy power outages during the day and at night.

"We demand that mobile phone service be provided to North Waziristan," resident Bakhat Zaman told Ghafoor.

To Zaman's surprise, Ghafoor said cell phone service will be available in March. "We will do whatever is possible to make your life easier," he said.

Ghafoor said the Pakistani Taliban used religion to spread violence and that now a young Pashtun leader, Manzoor Pashteen, was "misguiding and inciting youths against the army."

Ghafoor said the military is fencing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure peace on both sides and that he hoped that Kabul will not allow Afghan soil to be used as a staging ground for attacks against Pakistan.

Afghanistan does not recognize the boundary, known as the Durand Line, which was drawn by British rulers in 1896. Ghafoor took the journalists to the main Ghulam Khan border where fencing has been completed. He said the military in 2017 planned to fence 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of the border and about 800 kilometers (500 miles) has already been completed.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan’s First female Inspector General of Police Helena Saeed is #Christian from #Quetta, #Balochistan

Helena Saeed has become the first female Additional Inspector General (AIG) of Police in the country. She is the first ever AIG from Quetta- Balochistan and the first to ever make it to this rank from Pakistan. She is the first one to reach flag rank in the history of Police service of Pakistan. Another notable factor is that Helena comes from a Christian background. Currently Helena is the highest ranking female officer of the Police Service of Pakistan. The internet seems to be celebrating the new AIG over her success and everyone seems very proud of her.

Riaz Haq said…
TikTok: The new frontier for political info-wars

KARACHI: Within mom­ents of the violent protests that broke out across the country on May 9, hours after PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), videos of people vandalising public and private properties, torching buildings, and clashing with police began circulating on social media.

Alarmed, the authorities quickly pulled the plug on mobile internet and blocked public access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The rationale was to not allow the protesters — and in some cases, genuine miscreants — to continue mobilising using the reach of social media.

The government, clearly wary of PTI’s social media prowess, seems to have been satisfied with blocking the three platforms, likely believing the move would be enough to blunt its main rival’s most potent tool.

The PTI is, after all, a juggernaut on the three aforementioned platforms, with an aggregate following of over 17.6 million. However, the government left a flank unguarded: TikTok. They either did not take the platform seriously, or were totally clueless about its potential in narrative warfare.

TikTok is uncharted territory in the social media landscape of Pakistani politics. Only two parties — the PTI and PML-N — have official TikTok accounts. Between the two, the PTI is far ahead in the game. The traction it enjoys is overwhelming.

Its official TikTok account has three million followers and has accumulated over 167.4m likes on its video content. Meanwhile, the PML-N’s follower count stands at a measly 41,300, with just over 770,000 likes on its content.

With Twitter inaccessible, the PTI and its social media team checked the government’s move by leveraging TikTok. It went full throttle on the platform. In four days — from May 9, when Mr Khan was arrested, to May 12, when the Supreme Court ordered his release — 164 videos were posted on PTI’s official account; an average of 41 videos per day.

These videos were viewed by over 100 million people, garnered over 62 million likes and 191,000 comments. They were shared by around 260,000 people. The average engagement on each video was: over 618,000 views, 378,000 likes, 1,165 comments and 1,583 shares.

The PTI shared messages from PTI leaders and montages of Mr Khan in action. While TV screens dedicated themselves to scenes depicting violence, the PTI posted videos showing ‘peaceful’ demonstrations.

It also effectively used the platform to mobilise workers with calls to gather at specific locations in various cities.

Radio silence

The numbers show that the PTI enjoyed an open field on TikTok. The only other political account — the PML-N’s — posted only two videos in the same period, which were viewed for a total of around 134,000 times. Their cumulative engagement was around 9,400 likes, 348 comments and 908 shares.

Videos with the hashtag #fitnaarrested — including those posted by the PML-N official account and its followers — got only about 2.7m views. Meanwhile, videos with the hashtag #ReleaseImranKhan, used by PTI and its followers, got a total of over 233.6m views.

The efficacy of the government’s move to shut down three major social media platforms was debatable, as most people easily bypassed the gag by using a VPN.

As for the objective behind the move — to curb the PTI’s power to mobilise — the numbers from TikTok show that it failed to achieve it. These numbers also showed the futility of attempts to curb the spread of information during a time when there’s a vast range of social media platforms available.

Whether governments — the incumbent and subsequent — learn that lesson is yet to be seen.

PTI’s TikTok juggernaut

On the face of it, TikTok and political discourse do not seem to go hand-in-hand. ‘Fun videos’ is the phrase generally associated with the platform. However, it is a lot more than that. The place is populated by Gen Z — those born between 1997 and 2013 — who make up almost 39 per cent of its total users.
Riaz Haq said…
TikTok: The new frontier for political info-wars

PTI’s TikTok juggernaut

On the face of it, TikTok and political discourse do not seem to go hand-in-hand. ‘Fun videos’ is the phrase generally associated with the platform. However, it is a lot more than that. The place is populated by Gen Z — those born between 1997 and 2013 — who make up almost 39 per cent of its total users.

For them, TikTok has silently become a forum for serious debate on some of the most contentious issues of our times: from racial justice, climate change and politics, to gender-based violence, etc.

The ‘social side’ of Pakistani politics

The PTI is credited with being the pioneer in using social media for narrative building. The book, Pakistan’s Political Parties: Surviving between Dictatorship and Democracy, co-authored by Niloufer Siddiqui, Mariam Mufti and Sahar Shafqat, describes PTI as an “early mover” on the social media front “when it turned to Twitter and Facebook in order to mobilise the coveted youth vote.”

A 2014 research report on PTI’s use of Twitter by Saifuddin Ahmed and Marko M. Skoric found that its use of Twitter was “the most distinctive as it involved greater interaction with the public, more campaign updates and greater mobilisation of citizens to vote.”

‘Master TikTokers’

It is important to try and understand how the PTI and PML-N differ in their use of TikTok and what their content tells us about their strategy, narrative and messaging. As part of our research, we analysed the content published on both accounts. We took a sample of 144 videos from PTI’s account and 100 videos from PML-N’s account.

Since PTI publishes several videos every day, we restricted our sample to videos posted across five dates: March 8, March 14 to 16, and March 18. These dates were chosen as the account witnessed the most activity on these days.

On March 8, PTI workers came face to face with the police and a supporter, Ali Bilal, aka Zille Shah, died. From March 14 to 16, police laid a siege at the PTI chairman’s Zaman Park residence to arrest him, leading to another face-off with police. On March 18, Mr Khan arrived in Islamabad to appear before a court, resulting in a new standoff between the police and PTI workers.

On the face of it, PTI’s TikTok works like a well-oiled machine. The 144 videos were posted over a period of five days — almost 29 videos per day on average.

Given that most of them needed to be pieced together and edited for music and graphics, it appeared to be the work of a dedicated team of social media specialists. The PML-N’s 100 videos spanned over 82 days — from January 1 to March 25 — at an average of 1.2 videos per day.

The art of narrative-building

Niloufer Siddiqui explains that in the political context, a narrative is an idea of a political party’s ideology and what it stands for. ‘Narrative-building’ is a buzzword in politics these days as political parties want to take the lead in setting the discourse. For Ms Siddiqui, who teaches political science at the University of Albany, PTI is clear in what its narrative is. “It stands as anti-corruption, anti-status quo and anti-elite.”

Our analysis showed that PTI used TikTok to effectively take the lead in setting the narrative. Across the five days, the account consistently posted videos showing how authorities “targeted” the party’s workers. Of the 31 videos posted on March 8, 10 accused the police of torturing, tear gassing and killing a party worker.

Out of the 77 videos posted between March 14 and 16, a total of 18 were about the alleged torture of PTI workers, teargassing at Mr Khan’s house, police’s attempt to breach the Zaman Park’s door, and claims about the use of chemicals in water cannons and expired tear gas canisters. On March 18, the account posted 34 videos, of which 10 accused the government and security agencies of torturing and teargassing PTI workers and conducting an “illegal” search operation at Zaman Park.
Riaz Haq said…
TikTok: The new frontier for political info-wars

The PMLN apparently failed to counter this narrative on the three dates. In fact, only two videos were posted on the party’s official account between March 10 to March 24. They both featured Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

The analysis showed that the PTI used TikTok as an effective tool to mobilise its workers and demonstrate ‘public support’ for its chairman. In 22 of the analysed videos, PTI leaders directly addressed the workers and urged them to reach Zaman Park.

These were in addition to the use of hashtag #ZamanParkPohancho** in the description of the analysed videos. Till April 7, the videos under the said hashtag — not all of them posted by the official PTI account — had over 242m views. There were also 41 videos on the apparent ‘public support’ for Mr Khan, showing the crowd gathered outside Zaman Park and during his court appearance.

For Ms Siddiqui, a big reason for the clarity in PTI’s messaging is Mr Khan being the party’s face. “The fact is that whatever Imran Khan says becomes what PTI says. So, the PTI and Imran Khan are really synonymous.”

This contrasts with the PML-N, whose narrative, like the house of Sharifs, appears to be divided between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Ms Nawaz. Of the 100 analysed videos, the narrative of 40 videos centred around PM Shehbaz. These were clips of his meeting, interviews, media talks and governance. Ms Sharif was the focus of 23 videos. Most of these videos were her addresses, rallies, and ‘public support’.

The PML-N strategy witnessed an apparent shift after January 28 — the day Ms Sharif returned to Pakistan. All but one of the 23 videos featuring Ms Sharif were posted after this date. Before the PML-N leader’s return, the party’s narrative was focused on PM Shehbaz’s governance. Out of the 40, 33 videos featuring the prime minister were posted before this date.

The ‘Imran factor’

The analysis showed that the PTI is clear in its approach: centre the entire narrative around Chairman Imran Khan — his popularity, supporters’ willingness to “sacrifice their lives for him”, his “fight for people’s rights”, and him being a “one-man army against the state’s oppression”.

Of the 144 videos analysed, the narrative in 62 centred around Mr Khan, ranging from the conspiracy to kill him, reasons for his attempted arrest, the gag on his speeches, the cases against him, etc. In 36 out of 144 videos, Mr Khan was the sole appearance. These were clips of his speeches and his messages to PTI supporters.

This ‘Imran-centric’ content did yield results for PTI. Nine of the 14 videos on PTI’s account that crossed over a million views featured Mr Khan. Not only for his party, but the PTI chairman also fetched eyeballs for the rival PML-N. Of the ten most-viewed videos on the PML-N’s account during the period in consideration, four were directly critical of Mr Khan.

‘The voter is changing’

While political campaigns run on Pakistani social media leave a lot to be desired, the presence of the two biggest political parties on TikTok indicates an effort to reach out to voters where they’re concentrated. In surveys conducted by Asfandyar Mir and Niloufer Siddiqui to understand what platforms people use to access news and determine its trustworthiness, the numbers were 58pc for Facebook, 63pc WhatsApp, 47pc YouTube, 17pc Twitter and 30pc TikTok.

This change is not limited to how people consume news; it has a wider implication for Pakistan’s political landscape. “The voter is changing,” Ms Siddiqui said while explaining this trend.

While political parties with inherently weak organisational systems have relied on electables and patronage to attract votes, things have started to change. “Social media and urbanisation, severing feudal and biradri ties are changing party affiliations.”

Riaz Haq said…
TikTok: The new frontier for political info-wars

And the PTI has capitalised on this.

Ms Siddiqui said the PTI also relied on electables, but it simultaneously managed to capture people’s attention with its anti-status quo and anti-corruption narrative. “The PML-N and PPP, the other two major parties, failed to catch up. They are still stuck in electable maths.”

This was helped by PTI’s openness to exploring new platforms to amplify its message. As Mr Ahad explained, the party has always been more conducive to experimenting with social media, while their rivals fear the backlash their leaders might receive on these places.

“The PTI has been dominating the narrative so much, and for so long, other parties are apprehensive in countering it,” he said.

*The number of likes, shares, comments and views are approximation as TikTok rounds off the figure after it reaches five digits

**All hashtags originally in Urdu script have been rewritten in Roman Urdu.

This story has been done in collaboration with Media Matters for Democracy.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2023
Riaz Haq said…
While all, or may be the most, attention is still focused on Twitter, TikTok has silently become a new platfrom for political narrative warfare in Pakistan. In this longform story, I looked at the platform to see how it has turned into a battleground for

narrative warfare. Talk about the presence of political parties on the platfrom, only two --PTI and PML-N-- have an official account on the platform. Like every other platfrom, PTI is a juggernaut on the platfrom. It has three million followers

compared to just 43.4K of PML-N. The average engagment shows how big, and orgnanised, PTI is on the platfrom. Till April, PTI on avg posted 29 videos per day, had over 67K avg like, 685 comments and 750 shares. In comparision, PML-N posted 1.2 videso daily on avg,

with 1,192 likes, 48 comments and 22 likes. NOWHERE NEAR PTI.
As is the story on other platfroms, PTI is miles ahead in terms of how it uses TikTok to annihilate its rivals' messaging. Take the example of May 9. IK was arrested, violent protests broke out and the govt has

shut Twitter. The governemnt would have thought it managed to blunt PTI's most potent weapon. But, they left one flank unguarded; TikTok. What PTI does? It takes its entire messaging game to TikTok. It went full throttle on the platfrom, putting out on avg

41 videos per day between May 9 to 12. In comparision, it only posted 14 videos per day on avg from May 1 to May 8. During the time of IK's arrests, the engagement on PTI's TikTok account rose to insane levels. Check the graphs for comparision from a week ago.

Over 618K avg views, over 378K avg likes, over 1,100 comments and 1,500 shares -- all numbers doubled compared to last week. So did PTI lose anything while Twitter was down? They, by all means, outsmarted the government's move.

The story looks at this and compared several other activities on PTI's and PML-N's official TikTok accounts. How they post videos, how they use hashtag, what is the narrative, etc. It shows the PTI works on the TikTok like a well oiled machine, somethin PML-N clearly lacks.

For this story, I talked to
. Their comments and input was invaluable. Also, this months-long work wouldn't have been possible without the generous support from
and his team
Riaz Haq said…
Awab Alvi
Must appreciate the #PTI TikTok team for leading the campaign to amazing heights.

Khan’s movement started some 27 years ago.

I recall a day in 2000 when a deep discussion where people were debating to buy or not buy an Insaf domain that in my opinion was the birth of the Digital media - 23+ years

Or the day the team registered
in 2009 and later
in 2010 (all three accounts were in my opinion 1 year too late) but until then Twitter was a maturing social media n00b platform — 13+ years

To be honest I don’t remember when #PTISMTFamily registered Instagram in 2014 or this powerful TikTok later.

ماشاء اللّلہ today we/PTI/IK stand proud of an army the 220 million strong force people of Pakistan & overseas Pakistanis lobbying for a Naya Pakistan under Imran Khan

Gone are the days of millions being spent on traditional TV/Newspaper

This beast CANNOT be managed or controlled.

#PTISMT Pakistan is proud of you ❤️ - this is a team effort & I in no way take credit for any/all of this

Our Chairman has done 99% of his effort - one more push remains, and you are his muscle and his arms for a peaceful movement to a better & brighter 🇵🇰 انشاء اللؔلہ


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