Trending in #Pakistan

Twitter trends

I am a Twitter addict. I can’t help it. I am glued to Twitter, every minute checking for new posts. There are people who I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me think, and there are people I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me angry. One of my favourite parts of Twitter are the “trends”. This is where Twitter tells you what some of the most popular terms that are being used at that moment. It gives an insight into what the collective voice of the country is thinking. Or does it?

Some trends are unsurprising. During elections especially, politics seems to dominate Twitter trends. During the recent elections in Karachi, hashtag #NA246 was steadily appearing on Trends. After Election Tribunal announced re-polling in the district, #NA125 began trending. Often though the hashtags that are trending do not just notify about a topic, but contain a specific political message. This is where things get interesting.

Anytime there is a controversial event, hashtags begin to appear on the trends list that share a similar theme. Hashtags like #OurSoldiersOurPride, #NationStandsWithArmy, #LetsBlameISI, and #WeWantMilitaryCourts are common and give a strong showing of public support for national institutions. Or do they?

Recently, people have begun taking screenshots of irregularities with popular Twitter trends. After #ShameOnLUMS began trending, some people noticed that the exact same Tweet was being posted countless times by accounts that seem to have no activity except posting trending Tweets. Certain hyper-nationalist social media activists say that it is a “duty” to promote these trends.

However there may be more to it than meets the eyes. According to reports, Pakistan is home to a booming business of fake Twitter profiles and fake Twitter trends. Some people believe that these fake trends are part of an ISI media operation, while others insist that there is no proof of such claims. Personally, I do not believe that our agencies are so stupid and incompetent to waste so much time and money on obviously fake and meaningless things. Whether or not these fake trends are managed by national institutions or over eager supporters, though, is beside the point.

You see, these hashtag trends are not global. They only appear in Pakistan. That means we’re the only people seeing them. My question is: What’s the point? Is the reputation of our institutions really so weak that someone needs to create fake Twitter trends to convince us not to abandon them?

Fake Twitter trends and hyper-nationalist psychological operations targeting our own people damage the reputation of our agencies by making them appear to be desperately trying to hold the country on their side. Even if it is done with good intentions, it is not only unnecessary it is counterproductive. Whether its fake Twitter trends or planted stories in the media or government directives to not criticise Army, what is being projected is not a strong nation, but a weak one. And whose interests does that serve?

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