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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Jan 14, 2014

Socio-political innovations: Making social media responsible

Social media can play a constructive role by streamlining
the development discourse in a demand-oriented, inclusive and people-friendly
direction. This was the underlying theme of "Promoting Development Discourse
through Social Media", a moot held at the Sustainable Development Policy
Institute (SDPI) on Monday.

Although the use of social media is more common among the
urban-centric youth, they agreed that attempts of the state to blackout news
from areas such as Balochistan and other conflict-hit regions can now be
countered by informal reporting through such means.

Media analyst Raza Rumi said that social media is an
opportunity for the development community to get feedback for projects and also
collaborate and advocate its cause by showcasing the humanistic side of that
development.

"Social media as a communication tool is successful in
generating unprecedented debate among the public. However, development
discourse has also been reshaped in different forms to fill information gaps in
the realms of disaster management and public accountability by promoting
freedom of speech."

To back his notion, Rumi cited the examples of policy
makers, politicians and donors who are using this medium not only for public
outreach, but also to empower their followers by promoting their manifestos.

SDPI Deputy Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed spoke about
non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) role in the use of social media. He said
that social media was not merely the use of social networking sites, but when
used creatively, these tools can maximise a message’s outreach and impact. He
shared the example of Khan Academy as a form of online communication that
provides education.

Amena Aly Kamaal, the founding director of Strategic
Communications, added that privacy concerns while using social media can be
discouraging. “If this aspect is not addressed in a proper way, it can have
adverse affects on the goals you are pursuing through this medium,” she
commented.

But she was also of the view that online media has helped
enhance social interaction, which can also leads to gaining the trust and faith
of people. “The more your client or follower is getting in contact with you,
the more he will be concerned to invest his valuable time and effort in your
organisation.”

Kamal said how one uses social media depends on their
objectives and goals because one must know the intended goals while
campaigning. “And don’t expect miracles from such mediums,” she concluded.

Shirin Gul, a digital anthropologist and social behavior
analyst at Mindmap Communications, discussed the impractical role of
non-trained social media experts who are not fully-aware of development
issues. "There is an urgent need to recognise that the discourse about
development
sector on social media should be research-oriented and dialogue-based,"
she
urged.

During the question-and-answer session, Kamal replied to a
question by saying social media was not only a forum of information, but can
also empower people.

Rumi also asserted that social media cannot play the role of
delivering tangible results, but it can lead to a way forward.