In the wake of the May 9 incidents in Pakistan, internet services were partially suspended for three days, including a complete ban on social media. This was the first time that social media sites were completely banned in Pakistan, which lasted for three to five days. In which Facebook and Twitter were the leaders.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, as of January this year, there are 217 million profiles of Pakistanis on various social media platforms, of which 71 million are active users. YouTube is the first with 7.7 million users, followed by Facebook with 5.75 million users and Snack Video with 2.0 million users.
If the proportion of social media users in the total population of Pakistan is seen, the figures are quite surprising. One reason for this is said to be restrictions on freedom of expression in Pakistan, forcing people to use alternative media. According to the World Freedom Index, Pakistan ranks 157 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of expression.
All in all, social media has revolutionized the entire world. 58.4% of the world population i.e. 4.62 billion people are using various social media platforms. Not only this, they spend an average of two hours and 27 minutes on social media. 93% of people with internet access use social media. Advertising on social media is also increasing day by day and by 2027, the value of advertising on social media platforms alone will reach 130 billion dollars.
The mystery of the number of users of Twitter in Pakistan
According to Twitter, its number of users in Pakistan is 3.4 million. On the other hand, if you look at the top ten most followed Twitter accounts in Pakistan, a completely different picture emerges. PTI chief and former prime minister Imran Khan tops the list with 1.92 million followers.
Second is PTI’s Asad Umar, who resigned from the post of General Secretary of the party two days ago. His number of followers is 94 lakhs. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is at the third position with 88 lakhs.
Maryam Nawaz is fifth with 8 million, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed is sixth with 7.8 million and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is at seventh with 6.6 million.
The most important question here is that in a country where the total number of Twitter users is 3.4 million, why and how the number of followers of Imran Khan is six and a half times more than the total number of Twitter users in the country?
Even if it is accepted that he has become a global figure and his followers are spread all over the world, still compared to him, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has 88 million followers, while the total number of Twitter users in India is Two crores are 45 lakhs. Here too, Modi’s total followers are almost three times more than India’s total Twitter users. Former US President Barack Obama has 132.5 million followers, while the total number of Twitter users in the US is 77.8 million.
Twitter owner Elon Musk has 148 million followers but he is known all over the world, so it can be assumed that his followers are spread all over the world.
Are Twitter Followers for Sale?
In the 2016 and 2020 US elections, it was revealed by the US institutions themselves that Russia had influenced the results of the US presidential election and the various methods it used for this purpose included fake Twitter accounts.
However, according to Independent Urdu’s social media editor Saqib Tanveer, Russian interference in the US elections did not have any significant impact on the election results or voters, and this is clear from recent research.
“In January 2023, research conducted by New York University revealed that the spread of Russian material reached very few Americans, and most of them were Republicans who already believed in such material.”
Don Woods, a senior FBI cybersecurity expert, wrote last year that 80 percent of Twitter accounts are either fake or automated, run by robots. You can increase your followers, likes and retweets by giving money.
However, in response, Twitter owner Elon Musk said that these accounts are not more than five percent.
Basit Alvi is the director of IT company BrainNet. He created the world’s first computer virus in 1986. He told Independent Urdu that this is the world of commercialism and the age of ‘keyboard warriors’ which our institutions called ‘Fifth Generation War’.
‘It works on people’s minds. What to attract you and what to take you away, it’s all possible and Twitter is the biggest tool for that.’
“There are companies and applications that generate followers for you, likes and retweets of your tweets,” he said. For this purpose, companies have millions of fake accounts that are operated by robots. Many political parties and business organizations in Pakistan are their buyers.
He said that ‘Twitter always deletes such accounts, usually within one to three months, these accounts are deleted, but more than that, new ones are also created. If you want to be the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Pakistan, there is a price tag for these companies that you can pay to do it for you. It is a very expensive work and you need crores of rupees for it, but the political parties and leaders of Pakistan are doing this expensive work.’
According to Saqib Tanveer, where Twitter has a lot of involvement in the mind-set, YouTube cannot be overlooked because the importance of political vlogs in Pakistan has probably become more important than Twitter. “If May 9 is mentioned, on that day, instead of Twitter, Major (Rtd) Adil Raja was live for hours on YouTube with other like-minded people and continued to influence the protest.”
Fake news enemy’s most effective weapon?
Twitter’s headquarters are in San Francisco, where an algorithm is being created for each country and city’s content being uploaded to Twitter. Algorithms determine which of these items to carry forward, which to hold back, and which to trend.
These algorithms can also be given any direction. This is the point that any false news can set fire to any place.
Hasan Shabbir Joko is a cyber security expert and data analyst. He told Independent Urdu that there is a company in America called Cambridge Analytica which was shut down in 2018. The same company ran a social media campaign for former US President Trump and turned the tide in his favor. The same company is also said to be responsible for Brexit.
It is important to distinguish here that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was limited to Facebook.
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Hasan Shabbir added, ‘This company has either bought or stolen customer data, which is called Psychometrics. They reflect the political and social orientation of any account. Based on that, they target you.’
He said, ‘On the day Arshad Sharif was killed, a trend was created on Twitter against the then Army Chief General Bajwa, which was started by PTI, but soon it reached millions.
“When I started looking into it, it was more about the accounts that were being run from India. When Imran Khan saw its popularity, he began to intensify his anti-army narrative. He believed that if he spoke against the army, people would be more receptive to him. You saw the same trend peaking on May 9.
“Thus, we can say that the PTI’s anti-army narrative in Pakistan has a hand in Twitter along with other factors.”
Aamir Jahangir is the CEO of Mashal Pakistan, the representative organization of the World Economic Forum in Pakistan. He told Independent Urdu that the trend of fake news is very high on Twitter compared to which blue tick accounts were introduced so that people can go to the accounts that are verified to verify any news.
But now Twitter has made blue ticks conditional on paying money, as if anyone can buy blue ticks and spread misinformation, Twitter’s reputation has been badly affected ever since.
Aamir Jahangir said that he had taken a course on national and global security from Harvard University in which he was told that fake news can cause massive damage to any country.
He said that ‘in Pakistan you saw in the recent crisis how a narrative was first created on social media and then the whole country was set on fire through it. Unfortunately, through social media, it is now possible for you to make your own lies the truth and falsify the truth of others. This is now being done on such a large scale that it has become very difficult to distill the truth.’