The War of Narratives and the Role of Social Media

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Narrative-building has a long history. It started right after modern human appeared on the face of earth approximately 200,000 years ago. Although, the narrative-building was much simpler; with the advent of manifold revolutions, it twisted and got a ‘strategic’ fervor. And, eventually become the crucial part of modern-day communication strategies. It has been playing undeniable role in business, politics and warfare. On the other hand Social-media networks are a result of “digital revolution”. Social-media networks are ubiquitous, unbounded by space-time constraints, easily approachable by anyone on earth, and could transmit vocal, visual and written as well. In the contemporary world, social-media has been playing a noteworthy role in shaping opinions, influence outcomes, amplifying ideas, creating meaning and generating conflicts. Globally there are 2-billion, and in Pakistan 35-million active internet users using social-media networks.

Narrative-building was always bounded for hundreds of years by three aspects: time-domain, space-domain, and evolutionary-domain; which is a result of both time-space domain. Although, till the beginning of ‘agriculture revolution’ around 1200s, the narrative building remained somewhat rudimentary. But, the sooner occurred the ‘scientific revolution’, the sooner started the phenomena of ‘strategic’ narrative-building. After the discovery of America, to have ingenious submission of black-slaves, the print media was used as a narrative-builder in the form of a book, “How to Make a Negro Christian” In 1842 by a slave owner named Charles Colcock Jones.

With the advent of industrial revolution the strategic narrative-building flowed towards the ‘business-domain’ using print-voice media available that time through marketing gimmicks, tantalizing advertisements, sensational magazines and even by painting of artists like Picasso. Henry ford, an industrial giant in automotive-industry and owner of “Ford Motors”, started shutting down his factories for both Sunday and; Saturday as well. Building a weekend’s holiday narrative to boost his automotive industry. Similar was an attempt made by a diamond czar “De Beers Sa” which orchestrated a marketing gimmick by floating a narrative that whosoever would not be able to give a diamond ring at his engagement or marriage would be denigrated in society. De Beers manipulated the masses in terms of emotions.

When the industrial revolution was on epic, simultaneously natural-resource-rich areas of world were being annexed by the colonial powers. In that era ‘strategic narrative’ building was an amalgamation of politics and war and used to aim at creating mentality by manipulation to imprint denigration into the consciousness of the subdued nations. John Henrik Clarke placed his finger on the sore spot when he said:

“To control a people you must control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture and when the conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history he needs no prison walls and no chain to hold you”

Another ample evidence to prove this assertion of creating such narrative is the following address of Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament on 2nd February, 1832 which corroborate the very fact, he said:

“………………….,I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians thinks that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”

The scarcity of resources and the politics of gaining control over the natural-resource-rich areas of the world ultimately lead to the World Wars I&II and a Cold War. World Wars and Cold War bringing with it the new phenomena of strategic narrative-building by spying and Hugger-mugger intelligence operations. Then using the print/voice/electronic media for propagandas to create chaos and new Nation-states, cripple morale and spread misinformation against politicians in particular and armies in general.

However, advancements in science and technology subsequently explored the new era of social life by making this earth “Global Village”. The internet/world-wide-web provided the optimum breeding-ground for the social-media networks like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snap-chat and many others to be nurtured and flourished. The nouveau technology on the other hand made it possible to make more and more compact devices like Smart-Phones, Tabs, PDA and others to remain intact with individuals at anytime and anywhere; hence emerged the social-media networks with full potential.

After the fall of USSR, capitalism got prominence around the globe by Uncle Sam’s machinations. The sooner world got ‘Unipolar’, the sooner started the ‘war on terror’ right after 9/11 that made its way towards ‘Iraq Invasion’ under false pretext in 2003. This era was the peak of ‘Digital Revolution’ as many a social media platform to be emerged in this decade. Henceforth, the realm of social-media were on the rampage. Timing was fixed. Sage was built. Propagandas were ready. Armies were eager for the fray. Eventually the so-called ‘Arab spring’ emerged as a murky autumn for the Middle-East by a propaganda emanating from a social-media network.

The paranoid Arab-States and namby-pamby populace were duped mainly by propagandas using social-media networks in a way that they themselves were confident if they were working on their free will; as voiced long ago by Joseph Geobbels:

“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident that they are acting on their free will”

Henceforth, emerged many non-state actors in the garb of religion/sects under multifarious brand names. ISIS emerged as an irrepressible bulwark which plunged the whole Middle-East into blood-drenched meadows. ISIS used social media networks for recruiting, organizing, mobilizing, disseminating and intelligence to make the matter worse. ISIS also developed Apps like “The Dawn of Glad Tidings” or “Nasher”. Videos-recordings of the brutal killings of innocents were shared using social-media networks to spread terror among the adversaries. Many a hashtags on twitter fomented insurgencies. For instance, “#ScudLaunch” caused Scud-missiles launch form Yemen to Saudi-Arabia. For spreading misinformation, “shock and awe” campaigns were launched using social-media to cripple morale or triggering response. To shape perceptions, the “net-trolls strategies” initiated at social-media by prompting discussions and invite comments. Israel’s IDF. China, Russia, USA(CIA), Hezbollah and others has been using net-trolls strategy to shape perceptions. Social-media network owners in terms of narrative-building has given much-exploitable power. Facebook, twitter and others has been using their news-feed feature to manipulate user’s emotions. Islamphobia, punish a Muslim-day, NewZealand’s Mosque attack live-Telecast on Facebook are some incidents which are a result of social-media activism against Islam.

In Pakistan, after 9/11, unrest destabilized the country. The jihadist used social-media to make perception and narrative-building. Either for TTP, Lashkaer-Jhangvi, jamat-ud-dawa, or more recently PTM, social-media served as a tool to propagate their narrative; creating much chaos and destabilization for Pakistan’s establishment. As per ISPR’s press-release, hundreds of ‘fake’ social-media accounts were generated to build mendacious narrative against Pakistan.

Conclusively, the “fifth columns,” “rightists,” “leftists,” “non-state-actors,” “intelligence agencies” and artificially-intelligent “chat-bots/chatter-robots” are all active players using social-media to build a narrative. The war of narratives and counter-narratives between non-state-actors and civil-military establishment are on the rise at national and global level. As for now, there seems to be no end of war-of-narratives. Social-media networks incessantly giving more liberty to the individuals, groups, communities (religious/sects), non-state-actors and civil-military establishments for narrative-building in accordance to their own stance by any means.

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The author belongs to Quetta, Balochistan. He is the winner of 'English Article' category of the Writing Contest held by VOB from June-July, 2019.

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