Media is a powerful tool. The evolution of media from being only accessible through wires to its omnipresence in the world has brought a massive transition in the way people interact, build narratives, and share stories. Contemporary media or new media includes visual, written, and audio content that has a presence in the realm of the digital world. The distinctive feature of contemporary media being accessible to a wide audience, and a prime tool for narrative building makes it an extremely important platform that could have a large impact on the opinions of masses.

Most of the political and social entities in the modern-day pivot on the narrative building on social media to further embalm their agenda in the mainstream. In the age of the internet, social media has become a peculiar tool for narrative building, which has empowered individuals from different age groups and backgrounds to engage in the narrative building. Narrative building on social media is done very strategically to attract a lot of clouts. The narratives are built in a way that can transcend the screens to one’s emotions, and feelings. For instance, beauty brands use the narrative building to further their idea of beauty to get people to buy their products. Similarly, the political narrative building focuses more on changing people’s opinions about their political agenda to gain their support.

What makes digital narrative building important is its tendency to influence and shape people’s opinions about political and social matters. Mostly used as a tool to perpetuate propaganda, social media in many instances has been used negatively to generate conflict as well. With the emergence of advanced technology and the internet, contemporary media has taken over the traditional means of media distributions. The transfer of information has become easy. The transmission of information online has greater reach, frequency, and immediacy. It enables an environment where messages of various forms (vocal, visual, written) can be transferred to anyone regardless of their location on the planet.

While it is true that social media has played a huge role in making people’s life easier, it has also created misunderstanding by propagating misinformation, and campaigns aimed at diverting the direction of war or driving a response that will provide a strategic advantage. The narrative building is also at the heart of “net trolls strategies”. Net trolls start discussions and invite comments so content that is reckoned offensive or damaging to the organizations is swept under the rug by friendly and supportive views. Statistics suggest that the Chinese government posts approximately 448million social media comments a year. Similarly, Russia devised advanced net-trolls strategies to protect its geopolitical landscape. Another example is of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), which used social media to amplify its force on the battlefield since the second half of 2000. The Israeli Defence Force used social media as a reaction to the narrative Hezbollah built during the Lebanon war in 2006, where it depicted Israel’s operation as a failure which led to Israel’s defeat. The use of technology during wars and for political gain has been made normative since then.

Recently, a nonprofit group called Freedom House, which traces free speech on social media, said in a report that during the past year political leaders in 38 countries appointed people to secretly mold online opinions. According to the president of Freedom House, Mike Abramowitz, governments and people find it easier to build narratives on social media and influence other people.

In Pakistan, social media has been extremely instrumental in giving youth a voice. A survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan revealed that 92% of internet users are regular consumers of new media. With the availability of internet in nooks and corners of the country, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc., have served as platforms, where youth have raised their concerns about social and political issues. As a consequence, the youth is more well-informed about the political situations in the country. For instance, during the floods of 2010, the youth used social media to provide updates about relief activities, and the needs of the victims. The contemporary media has also helped the youth combat intolerance by countering it with a peacebuilding narrative.

The discourses on social media have helped with the resurfacing of alternative narratives, and thus inviting dialogue on various topics. However, social media has given a lot of power to individuals including non-state actors to create meaning and hence giving them the power to confront and destabilize organizations. Therefore, there needs to be a greater understanding among social media users about the importance of narrative on influencing opinions. 

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Hatoon Gul is a Turbat based YES alumna studying Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Karachi.

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