Thursday, January 10, 2008

Social Networking in Pakistan is Lagging

As the membership of social networks and the users of social media applications such as Facebook, MySpace, and Orkut grow dramatically to hundreds of millions in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America, it seems that this phenomenon is still in very early infancy in Pakistan. As of now, there are about 117,000 Pakistanis on Facebook, about 100,000 on Orkut, and a few thousand on MySpace. There are smaller social networks such as that have a few thousand Pakistani members as well. While bills itself as a Muslim social network, it seems primarily focused on match-making. Pakistan's middle class is estimated to be about 25m people, larger than the population of several European countries and Australia. With such a large middle class population, only a small fraction is participating in the social networking phenomenon. The reasons cited for this minuscule participation include the lack of access to the PC and the Internet, lack of familiarity, and shyness standing in the way of appropriate public self-expression. While I acknowledge that these might be contributing factors, I believe the main factor is the lack of a socially and culturally appropriate content and welcoming environment that suits the Pakistani sensibility and taste. It is something hard to describe but it is something you know when you see it. A new social network called PakAlumni Worldwide has recently been launched to serve this exact need and to encourage Pakistanis to participate in larger numbers. It is still in its early days with about 700 members but growing rapidly. The membership includes a large number of Pakistanis living in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and various parts of Asia. The social connections made via PakAlumni can easily turn into business connections and bring the Pakistani diaspora together to grow closer and more prosperous and help Pakistan achieve greatness in the process while improving its civil society and image.


Riaz Haq said...

Huma Yusuf blogs for Pakistan's site in Karachi and is a close watcher of new media in Pakistan. She says that in her country, new media has spawned a pithy brand of citizen journalism. The reason: “unlike Indians, we feel like we’re in a state of war”.

She says that during the Pakistan Emergency of 2006-7, Pakistan’s online population grew from 2.5 million to 18 million.

Click here for an MIT media labs paper she published on activism by Pakistan's online population.

Muslim Online Network said...

wow amazing blog and most of the people use the social media for the purpose of the marketing and it is really a nice one tool but now i hate facebook because it discourage the muslims faith and degrade them...
so muslims need a nice social community like the muslims online network....

Riaz Haq said...

They do it deliberately to provoke adherents of Islamic faith, and then they enjoy the predictably violent reaction from a small section of Muslim society to "prove" their point. This creates a false impression that Muslims are not peace-loving, as the well-known right-wing parties in Pakistan never fail to oblige Pakistan's and Muslims' detractors by their violent street protests.

By blocking Facebook under pressure from the right wing politicians, all Pakistanis are denying themselves a powerful global platform that could be used to confront the haters of Muslims and use this as an opportunity to explain Islamic point of view to those who might be willing to listen.

It's a shame that Muslims, particularly Pakistanis, continue to lose the modern PR and social media battles big time.

Riaz Haq said...

Instead of banning, Muslims need to learn to use the new media to fight hatred and prejudice.

In response to provocation by Islam haters' "Islamofascists Week" at UC Berkeley, MSA decided a few years ago to respond by organizing "Peace, Not Prejudice" week on campus. "Peace, Not Prejudice" is joined by 30 other student groups and turns out to be a great success. The "Peace, Not Prejudice" coalition success completely overshadows the "Islamo-Fascist Week" organizers.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Express Tribune report on the launch of web-based Maati TV in Pakistan:

LAHORE: Music Art and Technology Informatrix (Maati Tv) will mainly serve as a platform for the youth to share their stories of social and development sectors.

The web television will work on the principle of non-corporate parallel media. A project of Interactive Resource Centre (IRC) in collaboration with the South Asian Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) and the Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan (CWS), Maati TV will initially have its correspondents in 20 districts and different educational institutions across the country.

In Punjab, Maati Tv will have its correspondents in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur and Faisalabad. In Sindh the correspondents will be located in Karachi, Hyderabad, Dadu and Juhi. Balochistan will have its representatives in Quetta and Jaffarabad while in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it will have correspondents in Mardan, Peshawar and Kohat. The web television will also have representation in Gilgit and Hunza.

The correspondents from these districts will make documentaries on social and developmental issues which will be uploaded on the website. The head office of the web television will be in Karachi.

Executive Director of the IRC Muhammad Waseem told The Express Tribune that the organisation has trained the correspondents in documentary making, “We have worked in different educational institutions on peace building and students will also make documentaries on different social and developmental subjects. We have provided cameras and editing units to our correspondents and their documentaries will mainly only be three-minute long.” The youth does not have a platform to speak about social problems and this television will provide them with a platform to get involved in the social building process, he added.

Programme Manager IRC Nasir Sohail said, “Maati TV will be like Democracy Now, a non-corporate media in the US, we have also added the option of blogging in it. People can write their blogs or articles and we will generate debates on our documentaries or our blogs”.

When asked about data management of the site, he said, “We will have multi servers. We have this thing in mind and have sorted this out. Honorarium would be given to the correspondents for making each documentary”.

The television will also incorporate cell phone videos. “There will be a section in which we will have mobile phone videos. People can make documentaries on any social issue and we will upload them,” said Waseem.

Flood relief activities

Maati TV will focus on the rehabilitation work in flood-hit areas through a special segment. “The locals in the flood hit areas will serve as watchdogs. They will make documentaries on the relief activities and we will upload them on our website,” said Waseem. By 2012, 70 percent population of Pakistan is going to be under 30 and that is our target audience. When asked about the financial feasibility of the project he said, “We intend to have google ads and meet our expenses from there. Another option is that we will focus on corporate social responsibility and generate funds for it. If things go as per plan this project should become self sustaining in a year.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan’s #Troll Problem: Girls face online harrassment by unscrupulous men in social media … via @SimonParkin

Last June, an eighteen-year-old student at Edwardes College, in Peshawar, Pakistan, opened an e-mail to see a picture of her face digitally superimposed on the naked body of another woman. As the student read the attached message, her dismay curdled into panic. The e-mail’s sender, who identified himself by the pseudonym Gandageer Khan, claimed to have hacked into her Facebook account. He threatened to post the photo online unless the student sent him money, in the form of a prepaid phone card, and provided him with the personal details of other female students at Edwardes. When she refused, Khan uploaded the doctored image, along with several others, to a page that he had created on Facebook titled “Edwardian Girls.” Each picture now included the student’s name, her phone number, and a lewd message: “I am available for sex. Call me for a quickie.”

It later transpired that the student was among fifty young women whom the people behind the Khan account—two men, one named Muhammad Ali Shah, and the other identified only as Suhail—harassed and blackmailed for a period of four years before they were arrested, last August. “The whole of Peshawar was aware of what was happening,” Rabel Javed, another of the men’s targets, told me. “Every time a girl would take a picture, we’d be like, ‘I hope Gandageer doesn’t get a hold of this.’ Every girl thought she might be next.” Although some members of Javed’s extended family blamed her for the hack, her sisters were supportive. “They kept reminding me that none of this was my fault, it was actually this guy who was sick in the head,” she said. “I was fortunate. I come from a liberal family. Not a lot of girls are like me.” The subject of the first doctored photograph, meanwhile, claims that her father beat her for what happened, and forbade her from returning to college.

The students, including some sympathetic young men from Edwardes, rallied and began to petition Facebook to remove Khan’s page. “We all just kept reporting, but nothing seemed to work,” Javed said. Although all of Khan’s images had vulgar captions, not all contained indecent imagery. As a result, the arbiters at Facebook, whose closest office to Peshawar is located more than twelve hundred miles away, in Hyderabad, India, claimed that no community standards had been breached. “That’s when I understood there was a language barrier,” Javed said. “The abusive text was written in Pashto.” After months of trying fruitlessly to persuade Facebook to take the pictures down, Javed wrote to Nighat Dad, a thirty-six-year-old Pakistani lawyer, whose organization, the Digital Rights Foundation, provides support to women who are victims of online violence. Dad’s involvement provoked prompt action. Facebook removed the images, and a spokeswoman told me that, following this incident and others like it, the company has grown to “include native language speakers who review content in more than three dozen languages.” Then, on August 17th, the Karachi-based Express Tribune reported that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency had arrested Shah and Suhail. According to Dad, the men eventually settled out of court.

“Online harassment in Pakistan differs from the West,” Amber Shamsi, a journalist in Islamabad, told me. In March, a conservative cleric stated that it was un-Islamic to follow the Pakistani celebrity Qandeel Baloch on social media, because she posted alluring photographs. When Shamsi retweeted a colleague’s claim that the cleric’s edict was genuine and not, as some claimed, fabricated, a group of trolls downloaded her Facebook photographs and used them to create new images labelled “slut” and “prostitute” and “cunt.” This sort of behavior is prevalent on the Internet because it is “prevalent on the streets,”...