Who is watching the social media wardens?

Published: February 8, 2012

Our increasingly active social media is polarizing the two divides in our society: that of conservatives and liberals.

The recent issue of Maya Khan vigilantism and the subsequent uproar that ensued in the social media, resulting in the termination of the said anchor and her team, has brought to fore a number of questions. Whereas I wholeheartedly ascribe to the widely held opinion that this is a major victory for the liberal coterie which is otherwise known for keyboard ‘jihad’ alone, I have my contentions.

Let’s not put down the entire thing to a liberal win. The impact of the social media’s protest over this issue, in particular, was hugely galvanised because it struck a chord with a vast majority. In principle, nearly every person who saw the show and was not a mullah or a cranky old aunty with religious notions of Ziaul Haq, was horrified. And that, precisely, is what took the dissent to a proportion where Samaa TV was eventually forced to take down the show and sack the perpetrators.

That being said, it doesn’t diminish the significance of social media as a very effective medium. It has been central to many civil movements around the globe, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. But we have to pause here for a second and see if the role of social media in Pakistan is overstated. The Maya Khan episode was perhaps the only occasion where social media did play a decisive role. There have been numerous other issues over which Twitter was clogged with dissident discourse and Facebook statuses sprung up to register protests and yet it all resulted in absolutely nothing. One such case in point: Salman Taseer’s assassination.

This brings me to the chief point of my contention: perhaps, the increasingly active social media is, at the same time, polarising the two divides in our society – that of conservatives and liberals. While liberals have traditionally been aloof from Urdu dailys and widespread publications, they have now found a new medium in Twitter and Facebook to actively further their point of view. But at the same time, this seems to be happening at the cost of an erosion of liberals’ presence in the streets which now seem crowded by banned terrorist outfits openly rallying in provincial capitals and claiming to bring back the glory of an Islamic caliphate.

At the same time, there is also the problem of social media etiquette which was highlighted in the anti-Maya Khan campaign. When lambasting a person for invading other’s privacy, how fair is it to publish her personal pictures on Facebook and Twitter and dig deep into her personal background to reveal anything that may remotely amuse a furious audience? The importance of this question couldn’t be more pronounced as millions of Pakistanis flock to these sites which are fast becoming the next ‘main’ mode of public conversations. We saw the manifestation of this phenomenon well when a video of Mansoor Ijaz was widely used to take cheap sling shots at his personal life. If the propriety of a public conversation can’t be observed by social media, there’s no point in the same social media pointing fingers at others.

A concerted effort has been launched by eminent journalists and media personnel to agree to definite set of rules which shall serve as self-regulatory inunctions for TV channels. A similar measure should also be taken for the social media which asserts its position as a portion of citizen journalism and yet is far removed from any journalistic norms. There’s already a raging debate in the West over where the line should be drawn for social media commentators and we ought to address it before social media becomes the next vigilante. It’s essentially the same age-old question of who will guard the guards.

This blog was originally published here.


Salman Latif

A blogger who blogs at salmanlatif.wordpress.com/ and tweets @salmanlateef

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Atiq Rehman

    Great Idea Salman,

    But how can you expect a free, fair and unbiased social media when companies like CRS are paid almost half a million dollars to “monitor blogs, post entries”. By the way, CRS was founded by the leader of the liberals on twitter, His ex-excellency Husain Haqqani.


  • http://www.urhabib.com Habib Ullah Manjotha

    thank you very much salman! Recommend

  • LOL

    And the next question is who will guard the guards that are guarding the guards. I would prefer people bickering instead of government censorship. At least the people are disorganized and have conflicting view points. Governments have one view and that is to show the people that they are good and the people should vote for them in the next election. Recommend

  • Sikander Ali

    Social Media needs no restrictions. It is not a part of journalism as you incorrectly state. It is a part of the masses and when the masses protest.. it is usually extremely nasty with no regards to ‘parliamentary norms’. Let it be that way, free from censorship. For we, the common men, need no one telling us what to say and what not to say. Recommend

  • Shakky

    The whole point of social media is to empower the masses and democratize public discourse, which otherwise would be dominated by the formal media (i.e. journalists). Yes, it is messy, raucous and loud. But so is democracy. As the Arab Spring has so wonderfully demonstrated, social media discourse often leads to real change on the street and in the corridors of power. It is a powerful counterweight to the rabid mullahs who organize noisy protests and, as proven in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, is an effective means of corralling those who are wont to push their own agendas by skulking about in the often shadowy corridors of government. And it is far more self regulating than the media. It is noteworthy that none of the other TV commentators criticized Maya Khan for her antics until the social media firestorm began. Recommend

  • Ali

    Those who run social media can’t differentiate between Right or Wrong. Its just their opinion!Recommend

  • Wow

    well this is how liberals do their activism, instead of sticking to just substance they will drag the person through mud on twitter, facebook, tumblr you name it. They always make it personal. The ironic thing is that if the accused happens to be from among their strata they will elevate that person to sainthood by hyping up such an agressive sympathetic media campaign whilst attacking anyone who dares to question said accused’s credibility. (Case inpoint: Husain Haqqani and his chamchas on twitter, the very vanguards of rights and democracy who then proceeded to thrash Maya Khan into social oblivion).
    Maya Khan’s antics were wrong, but the backlash and the way she was thrashed on twitter and facebook (at one point by the very people who claim to be vanguards of media ethics)Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/taymoor.arif Taymoor Arif

    I think a big advantage at social media is that people can influence an effect on the broadcast by sharing their thoughts during the process, while same can’t be done on other media mediums, even if one want to express their contradictory comments, they can’t do it:

    Media will not allow them.
    One has to purchase time on TV for doing this, because e-media don’t have a mechanism facilitating criticism on them.
    Access to e-media is very difficult, ordinary person have no access to broadcasting.
    Any one can’t express their grievance against any content of a TV channel on any TV channel.

    Same conditions almost equally apply to print media with some exceptions.Recommend

  • http://www.salmanlatif.wordpress.com Salman Latif

    I think to give a sweeping social-media-is-absolutely-free statement is a very shallow analysis. Social media has increasingly become a part of mainstream journalism or is increasingly influencing it. And that raises questions about the bounds of social media. If, say, someone tweeted the personal details of a celebrity, would that be perfectly alright just because social media is ‘free’??
    Moreover, let’s say a person posts something utterly false about some entity and that goes viral, will that entity not be legally entitled to take action against that person? Damn right, it will be.
    So while we rejoice and bask in the ‘freedom’ afforded to us by the social media, which is very appreciable by all means, we also need to look to the possible repercussions a careless use of this medium can bring about.Recommend

  • Tariq

    This is a silly article, as it basically wants censorship of the social media. I guess the author also supports the SOPA/PIPA bills currently being considered by the US Government. Recommend

  • Anthony Permal

    I agree with the writer.

    Sky News has taken a brave but good step in issuing a global policy for its staff and journalists on the usage of social media, especially Twitter.

    The points that needs to be made absolutely clear to all and sundry are:

    1) You cannot in any way police or regulate social media. The word ‘social’ in that term is exactly what it means. It is the online equivalent of talking over a cup of tea at a streetside cafe, where you can say exactly what you want and it is your right to say it just as it is someone else’s right to get offended by what you say and then say his piece.

    We need to get out of this concept that social media needs ‘norms’. If you believe what the people who published Maya Khan’s photographs did was wrong, then good. Can you stop them? No. That is the nature of the beast. We must live with this. One rule of social media: if you don’t want your life to be public, don’t go social with it. Maya Khan made her life socially available however then went on to decry others in a social setting. She set up her own public social-lynching. Hillbillies abound everywhere.

    2) The above point I’ve made applies in a social sense, where the conversation is ongoing. It does not however apply to people who use it professionally to make a point that can impact anyone financially, economically, personally, morally or religiously. Case in point: journalists. What they say is taken with a lot of weight. If they choose to engage on a platform like Twitter, they must do so in the knowledge that they are no more protected than Maya Khan. Hence, must use their voice carefully.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/talentidols sanaahamed

    Very well sad totally agree with you.Recommend

  • WG

    Nice trial. Of a lady who was doing what is obligation of a media person. to indicate the issues need addressing. She did wrong because our media is promoting the filth of west in our clean society. Look at the adds and other trash media is presenting now a days. Don’t worry Maya. Rightousness is an uphill path and our media is rolling down the hill. May God bless you Maya. God willing you will be respected.Recommend