Showbiz & Politics: Expressing political affiliations on Social Media

To understand the role social media plays in bridging the gap between entertainment and politics one must first understand the terms: media democracy & agenda setting. Media democracy is not only a concept but a movement that aims to make mainstream media reflective of peoples’ aspirations, as it focuses on empowering the common man by promoting democratic ideals through the dissemination of authentic information.

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Meanwhile, agenda setting literally means setting an agenda – manipulating public opinion by strategically showing them selective news and/or stories as important. This happens when mainstream media uses its influence to sway public opinion. In politics, it is used to focus an individual’s attention on specific goals and objectives and was first introduced by Dr. Maxwell McCombs and Dr. Donald Shaw in 1972.

This is how social media plays a critical role in bridging the gap between the government, celebrities, and the common man. It enables celebrities, politicians, and people of influence to not only connect with the general public via Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms but, also gives them the power to shape opinions and biases by presenting the agenda-setting they wish to promote. Of the three primary forms of agenda setting: media, politics, and public, it is the first two that are more prominent in everyday life.

Since the internet has completely evolved into the modern-day means of communication providing channels that play a key role in circulating news, it also fully employs its power to change the message for what it is such as for hiding political corruption or conflicts in politics and entertainment. For example, during state elections, social media plays a key role in highlighting the elections process, conflicts, politics, and diplomacy.

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Despite being considered detrimental to 21st-century democracy, social media allows more people the opportunity to remain informed against any falsehood and amplify their voices. An example of that is the common usage of hashtags, putting the central focus on certain keywords such as #MeToo, #WeStandWithNoor, or even #SayNoToTobacco – all advocating an idea amplified through social media.

Also known as new media, they (social media and its trends) have “radically altered” the ways in which government officials, institutions, and political leaders operate and communicate, by not only revolutionizing the political media system and redefining what it means to be a journalist. They have also reformed the ways to contest elections, widely engaging citizens in politics.

Neal Schaffer, the founder of PDCA Social – a digital marketing consultancy, believes that the vastness of the internet, the rise of mobile technology, and social media have given people “the freedom to speak” while also becoming a “catalyst in helping to potentially change the course of history”.

Why not use social media to make a difference then? Since social media enables all of us to spread news quickly, through images and videos, why not use it to empower others, providing them with essential information?

How can you use social media positively?

  • Blog for a cause
  • Support social causes
  • Promote charities
  • Help disseminate news and make a change
  • Raise funds
  • Rally for social change

This begs the question: are politicians and celebrities playing their part in doing so? If so, is their role actually helping to shape the socio-political backdrop of our society?

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Take, for instance, the Panama Papers leak. A study published on the role social media played concerning Panama papers, argued that the majority of educated adults in Pakistan use social media on a daily basis turning to platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and Wikipedia for the acquisition of historical perspectives of the Panama leak which then shapes their behaviors accordingly.

It is pertinent to note that the Panama papers leak which is a case where millions of records comprising secret financial documents were disclosed by the offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca in April 2016 became a hot topic across Pakistan’s social media. This was because the case affected the social and political situation of Pakistan especially engaging the youth through social media. It empowered the public, irrespective of social influence, to disseminate and propagate information through digital and social media.  

According to a study by Syed Muhammad Farooq Shah Gillani and his co-authors, social media is “essential” for public and political parties as it provides “greater outreach”.

What is the role of Celebrities, Politicians on social media?

Like with all other means of communication, social media has also enabled celebrities with “undisputed” and “unprecedented” influence over and instant access to their fans. More and more celebrities are making full use of this opportunity to make their personal views public. An example of this is the role American television host Oprah Winfrey played in the 2008 elections. It is believed that Winfrey’s influence gave the then President-elect Barack Obama an additional one million voters over Clinton.

Likewise, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) managed to rile the support of the youth prior to the 2013 elections in Pakistan which resulted in former Prime Minister Imran Khan rising as the victor, assuming a significant position in the office. Since then, political parties and independent candidates have had active social media accounts to spread “information” among “social media users and voters”. According to a study, Pakistan comes second highest in the list of countries with youth active on social media followed closely by Yemen. Consequently, since 2008, political parties and celebrities have actively used social media to change the dynamics of politics and entertainment in Pakistan.

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Statistics show that of Pakistan’s population, approximately nineteen percent have access to social media and the internet.

Celebrities such as Shehzad Roy, Mahira Khan, Hira Mani, Bilal Qureshi, Ahsan Khan, Shaneira Akram, and others are known for using their influence to mold public opinion. Since the ousting of former premier Imran Khan, celebrities have played a key role on social media prompting the public to deny the take-over PML-N government as the “Imported Government”. Although the general opinion of the public has radically shifted since the Panama Papers leak, such social media trends have enabled celebrities further.

Conclusion:

Notable names such as Faisal Qureshi, Ahsan Khan, Syra Yusuf, Zara Noor Abbas Siddiqui, and others who stand in support of the PTI always share strong messages to promote Khan, urging others to stand in favor of the political leader as well.

Nonetheless, when these same celebrities fail to amplify their voices in support of a cause or advocate actions that are considered taboo or too controversial for our society, they are heavily criticized by the public. Take, for instance, the 8th HUM Awards recently hosted in Toronto, Canada. For choosing to participate and appear in the awards show, these “beloved” celebrities were called all sorts of names. It is pertinent to note, that at the time, internationally acclaimed figures such as Angelina Jolie, Mufti Menk, and Khalid Al-Ameri were not only visiting Pakistan but were also urging the global community to donate humanitarian assistance to the victims of the Pakistan floods.

Whereas, our celebrities were sharing videos and pictures of their time in Canada with hardly a few showing their support for Pakistan and the flood victims.

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