Techno-politics in Pakistan during 2012: the Role of Social ‘Information Network’ (Twitter) in Political Communication
A Comparative Study of Tweets by Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif
By Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
Media and politics are intertwined, especially in democratic states. Technological advancement has drastically changed the process of communication and this in turn has brought significant variations in ‘political communication’. Significance of e-connections has increased at an exponential rate in the age of ‘Internet-reliance’. The human of 21st century is submerged in an ocean of information, constantly being bombarded with packs of ‘what he/she wants to know’ and even ‘what he/she doesn’t want to know’. The later pack is a gift of the world-wide web, stirring a change in media environment, referred to as ‘new media’, ‘e-media’ or the ‘cyberculture’, according to some.
Wolsfeld (2011) has argued that the transition of ‘media’ with the advent of Internet hasn’t altered the central focus of the ‘political game’ that is ‘the need to be heard’. A larger part of the Internet industry is influenced by the ‘Social Media‘. 
Brown (2008) while explaining the development of ‘social media’ has described it as a requirement of the Internet users. He backs this observation by stating that “social media makers merged elements of multimedia within the concepts of social media”. The sphere of ‘social media’ is complex due to its vast and comprehensive nature. A prominent part of it revolves around the idea of ‘networking’ or connecting people together via Internet. This, today, is largely being achieved through ‘social networking websites’. 
Lester and Waters (2010) define the term ‘social network’ as a ‘specific type of service provided by the social media’, which is often confused with various components of social media (Blogs, Wikis, Internet Forums, Social News Sites, Photo and Video Sharing/Hosting, dating services, Bookmarking and Tagging services). They have classified the ‘social networking landscape’ as follows: 
1- General-Interest Networks: All – purpose/ popular/ mainstream networks. This group includes networks that share striking similarities with Facebook, hi5, Orkut, Google Buzz and My Space. Such networks give a unique mechanism for ‘connecting people’.
2- Business Networks- Professional or business-specific networks like LinkedIn, eBay Neighbours, Xing.
3- Niche Networks- Within this network users socialize through movies, music, games or they belong to a similar educational/workplace/ethnic/religious background.
Any substantial or function-based deviation from the above is not a part of the ‘social network’.
Twitter is often considered as a ‘social network’, but it is a ‘micro-blog’ (with a limitation of 140 characters). It is counted as a ‘information network’ that has a ‘macro-impact’ due to its ‘sharing-oriented’ operation.
The research study will explore the use of Twitter by two tech-savvy politicians of Pakistan (Imran Khan the President of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf-PTI) and Mian Shehbaz Sharif from Pakistan Muslim League- N-PML-N) The election campaign of 2008 inducted ‘social media’ in American politics. President Barack Obama was the first politician to ‘Tweet’. The world has already viewed ‘Tweets from Tahrir Square’ in the Arab Spring. Under the authoritarian regimes, social media was taken as an alternative form of media by the suppressed and forcefully-muted citizens. The immense role social media has played in times of crises (floods of 2010 in Pakistan) allowed it to expand its influence and penetration among the masses. Relief and rehabilitation was aided by the effective use of social media. Digital activism and other participatory activities being achieved by the Pakistani population (youth in particular) has definitely shifted the focus of every sector towards the social media, whether it be politics, traditional media outlets, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) or the health and education sectors. Politicians of Pakistan for the first time have used social media with such exuberance and vigilance. Therefore, this is a major development in their strategies of ‘political communication’, where the use of internet is becoming vital. The researcher will discuss at length the ‘politics of virtual world – in Pakistani context’ as reflected by the ‘Tweets’ of the selected politicians from January 1, 2012 till November 15, 2012.
The research study aims to investigate:
Who is a better Techno-politician, Imran Khan or Mian Shehbaz Sharif?
The investigation will be carried out by a self-devised ‘Model of Technopolitical Communication’ by the researcher.
Significance of the Study:
The research study will be the only one of its kind that will explain technopolitics in Pakistan by analysing the use of Twitter. Instead of merely relying on the statistical data, the researcher also intends to relate the functions of Twitter with aspects of participatory politics. ‘Tweets’, ‘Retweets’, and other information shared on Twitter will be studied under the political lens.
Rationale for the selected Politicians:
The number of politically affiliated Twitter users in Pakistan is large. However, the study focuses on just two politicians, for the sake of comparison. The rationale for the choice depends on the following factors:
1- They are selected by the number of Twitter followers. @Imran Khan – 426, 655 followers, @CMShehbaz – 58,577 followers (according to what was viewed on the Twitter profiles of both these politicians by the researcher on November 18, 2012)
2- According to the Gallup-Poll-2012, Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) have been the most popular political parties of the country from 2008 till 2012. The selected politicians have the highest number of followers on Twitter among other members of their respective parties.
The researcherwill use a self-devised ‘Model of Technopolitical Communication’ that will relate politics of virtual world with the real politics and traditional political approaches of politicians in Pakistan. This relationship is for the sake of understanding and cannot be taken as a replacement for politics in the real world.
The relations constructing this model are as follows:
Technopolitician – Twitter user who is Politician in real world.
Tweets – the message of the technopolitician, similar to a press conference in real world or the use of other mass media by the politician to communicate with the people.
Retweets – how much flexible is the technopolitical orientation, what does he/she want to share with his constituents through other available sources. In the real world, politicians often attribute certain statements or present data/information to logically convince the public. However, Retweets move a step forward as a technopolitician can share what people have to say about him at national and international levels. The conversation on Retweets ascribed to the citizens at national level can represent what the recipient of the technopolitical message has to say.
Conversation – the number of politically active netizens (virtual substitute for citizens in the real world), supporting or resisting the technopolitical messages (Tweets/Retweets (Netizens at national level).
As shown in the diagram, the model explains the relation between the Tweets/Retweets (Technopolitical message) and the Response or impact that can be assessed through the Retweets of Netizens at national level and the conversation that the Technopolitician has with them.The model has its limitations and cannot be considered as an alternative for how traditional political communication operates in the real world through mass media or other ways.
However, it is applicable for studying and comparing the use of ‘information network’ (Twitter) by real life politicians. The model doesn’t rely on the number of followers, but the number of those ‘interacting’ with the technopolitician (either in response to the Tweets or when the technopolitcian Retweets what the Netizens have to say about him/her or to him/her). This implies that the conversation to Tweets ratio or the conversation to Retweets (Netizens at National level) ratio accounts for the effectiveness of the technopolitical communication. Another advantage that the technopolitician gets through this technologically driven ‘virtual political campaign’ is the ‘feedback’ that helps in constructing appealing political messages by enhancing the content that has resulted in the desired impact.
Method:All the ‘visible’ activity on the Twitter accounts of both the politicians was recorded from January 1, 2012 till November 15, 2012. The data were then tabled as follows:
Tweeting Captain (Imran Khan) Versus Tweeting CM (Shehbaz Sharif)
@ImranKhanPTI has a large number of followers, but his activity on the basis of the model presented by the researcher is negligible. He can be regarded as a weak Technopolitician in comparison to @CMShehbaz. From January 1, 2012 till November 1, 2012, Imran Khan Tweeted 610 times, Retweeted 69 times, Conversations on Retweets by Pakistani Netizens were just 2 out of a total of 8 conversation during 10 months. It is also noteworthy that @ImranKhanPTI Retweeted his own party member (Shafqat Mehmood) most of the times. He exhibited a certain trend while Retweeting journalists, only Hassan Nisar and Mubashar Lucman were Retweeted by him.
On the other hand, during the same time frame, @CMShehbaz Tweeted 1050 times, Retweeted times, Conversations on Retweets by Pakistani Netizens were 60, Retweets of Pakistani citizens were 110 out of a total of 730. @CMShehbaz remained a very active technopolitician in a very positive way. He Retweeted media persons of Pakistan 99 times and no particular trend was found. There was a variety (Asma Shirazi, Maria Memon, Talat Hussain, Nadeem Malik, Hamid Mir, Sana Bucha- to mention a few) The CM not only Retweeted praiseworthy remarks, but criticism was also found on his Twitter page, few and far between. Retweets from PML-N officials or other Twitter accounts of PML-N were 111 (Khurram Dastagir was the most Retweeted party member). There were 50 Retweets by the CM from International Community and one of the citizens of Nigeria even stated that he aspired for a CM like Shehbaz Sharif in Nigeria, who uses Twitter. The interesting observation was the large number of Retweets from various other pages, The Dissenter, Revolt Today, The Economist, BBC, Overt Dictionary, Great Quotes (to name a few prominent ones), which together amounted for 360 Retweets.
@ImranKhanPTI has a large number of followers on Twitter, but his Technopolitics is weak according to the findings. @CMShehbaz possesses the Technopolitical acumen. He is using the Information Network like Twitter is a very effective way.
Please note that the researcher has no political leanings or biases. It was an interest based academic study, being a student of Communication Sciences. The researcher, therefore, doesn’t want to tarnish the repute of or disappoint the supporters of the politicians discussed in this post!