General Elections 2018: A war on social media


ISLAMABAD: The emergence of social media has changed the course of election campaign altogether and has become the ubiquitous source of communication for candidates during election campaigns.

In the past, if the candidates wanted to reach voters during election campaigns, they used to hand out leaflets, knock on doors, hold corner meetings and drive around in vans speaking through loudspeakers.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable candidates to directly reach out to voters, mobilize supporters, and influence the public agenda. These fundamental changes in political communication, therefore, present election candidates with a wide range of strategic choices.

The political parties earlier invested heavily in electronic and print media during election campaigns to get due coverage of their political activities, however, they can now convey their messages to the public to a greater extent, within no time, through social media with little investment.

So keeping in view the importance of social media, sources told Pakistan Today that various mainstream political parties have hired services of social media professionals and volunteers in order to reach out to the maximum number of people for the forthcoming general elections.

Though the political parties have yet to start formal electioneering because they have not finalised the process of distribution of tickets, their respective social media teams have already started vigorous campaigning on Facebook and Twitter.

All major political leaders especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Nawaz are the regular users of Twitter and have a great following.

However, PTI Chairman Imran Khan is the most popular leader on micro-blogging website Twitter in Pakistan with his followers reaching 8.03 million. Hence his tweets’ likes reach thousands within a few minutes. Maryam Nawaz comes second with more than 4.73 million while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has 2.72 million followers on Twitter.

Similarly, the three political parties have official party accounts on Twitter as well on which PTI took the lead as its followers are 3.53 million while PML-N and PPP have mere 94,400 and 54,800 followers respectively.

Moreover, on Facebook too, the PTI has managed to maintain its supremacy as PTI chairman’s page is the most popular with 8.2 million followers while official PTI account has 5.8 million followers. On the other hand, Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s official page has 267,147 followers while PML-N’s Facebook page has 2.6 million followers.

Similarly, PPP’s official page on Facebook has over 195,663 followers while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Facebook followers are 156,655.

PTI is running an election campaign on social media with hashtag #WazireAzamImranKhan and #PTIrulesKP, while PML-N and PPP have highlighted development works done during the last five years to garner support for the upcoming polls.

PTI is also highlighting PTI government’s previous performance in KP in a unique way as trucks have been prepared with video screens and sound systems to present the performance of KP government to the people of the province during the election campaign.

These parties, however, refused to disclose their strategy when Pakistan Today contacted them.