The 1st Social Media Summit last year was a resounding success and it was followed up this year by the 2nd Social Media Mela, jointly organised by PeaceNiche and the United States consulate. It was a two-day event that featured speakers from India and Pakistan. It aimed to bring together social media enthusiasts, journalists, activists and writers, so as to explore the various ways in which social media is evolving and how it is affecting the lives of internet users. Throwing in panel discussions, presentations, stand-up comedy, qawwali and music performances, it was an intellectual and aesthetic treat for all participants.
The event had a rather rocking beginning, starting one hour late and that too without one of its most awaited key-note speakers, Barkha Dutt, of NDTV from India, who could not come due to visa uncertainty. Attempts were made to communicate with her via Skype, but video kept breaking and ultimately the Skype chat had to be abandoned. Fortunately, the rest of the event went quite smoothly, and without disturbance.
In her opening speech Sabeen Mahmud, the founder and director of PeaceNiche, revealed how she managed to procure visas for the Indian visitors. A week or so before the event, she was under the impression that the visa situation was all in order but then just three days before the summit, it was revealed to her by Intelligence Bureau that visas were not being approved, and she found herself in almost hopeless, in uncertain waters. She was advised to contact Rehman Malik, Interior Minister of Pakistan, which she was able to do so with some difficulty. Rehman Malik inquired whether any military personnel were participating and he was assured that the invited speakers were only social media enthusiasts, at which he spontaneously exclaimed ‘Aik to yeh twitter aur facebook walay mera mazaq buhat uratay hain!’ The audience erupted in laughter on hearing this, and Sabeen urged all to show their gratitude to the senator on twitter using the hashtag #ThankYouRehmanMalik. After Rehman Malik’s approval, the Indian speakers got their visas just about in time for their flights.
US Consul General to Karachi, William Martin, inaugurated the summit and spoke of the discrepancy he had experienced in the anti-American sentiments voiced in newspapers and media, and the warmth and friendliness that he had been offered by every Pakistani that he had met. He stressed the importance of social media, and how it highlights the issues that are not picked up by the mainstream media. He also voiced his hope that the social media will lead to more amicable and stronger ties between the two neighbours.
The first day of the session ended with a brilliant qawwalli by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammad, while the event was concluded on the second day with a performance by Laal band.
Social Media Mela: Who is Who?
Prominent Speakers from India
Annie Zaidi @AnnieZaidi
Indian journalist, author, playwright and poet.
Jugal Mody @omfgthelife
Indian author of the novel Toke and writer for Tehelka
Karuna John @KarunaJohn
Associate Editor at Tehelka.com
Indian film director, writer and producer, best known for his film My Brother... Nikhil.
Raheel Khursheed @RaheelK
Communications Director, India for Change.org
Sabbah Haji @IMSabbah
Director of Haji Public Schools, Indian Jammu & Kashmir.
stand-up comic from India
Venkat Ananth @VenkatAnanth
Yahoo! cricket columnist
Prominent Speakers from Pakistan
Ali Aftab Saeed @AliAftabSaeed
Of Beyghairat Brigade’s Aalu Anday fame. Columnist, actor and singer.
Ali Gul Pir @AliGulPir
Comedian and singer famous for his song Waderai ka Beta
Ali Dayan Hasan @AliDayan
Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch.
Assad Zulfiqar Khan @PseudoRebel
Film-maker; director of Haal, a short film on life in the Zia years.
Awab Alvi @DrAwab
Dentist, political blogger (Teeth Maestro) and TED Senior Fellow
Ayesha Tammy Haq @TammyHaq
Lawyer, anchor, writer, radio host and civil rights activist
Babrus Khan @Babrus
Pakistan’s youngest Art Director; designer of Commander Safeguard
Beena Sarwar @BeenaSarwar
Journalist, editor, documentary filmmaker and civil rights activist
Bina Shah @BinaShah
Author of two collections of short stories and three novels
Faiza Sultan Khan @BhopalHouse
Editor-in-chief of The Life’s Too Short Literary Review
Hassan Belal Zaidi @mightyobvious
Journalist, columnist and freelance consultant
Jahanzaib Haque @JHaque_
Current Web Editor at Express Tribune and creator of Jay Toons
Marvi Sirmed @MarviSirmed
Journalist, columnist and activist
Mehreen Kasana @MehreenKasana
American-Pakistani student, blogger, doodler and social activist
Mira Hashmi @MonaDarling
Film-maker and critic, teaches at Lahore School of Economics and writers for Herald
M Hanif @MohammedHanif
Famous Pakistani novelist, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, and special correspondent for BBC
Musharraf Ali Farooqi @MicroMAF
Author, novelist and translator, well-known for his acclaimed translation of The Adventures of Amir Hamza
Nadeem Farooq Paracha @NadeemFParacha
NFP is a well-known socio-political commentator and columnist
Raza Rumi @RazaRumi
Accomplished and prolific journalist, writer and blogger
Important Sessions of Note
How Twitter Changed My Life
Venkat Ananth narrated entertainingly the story of how he started tweeting with Obama’s victory, and how it has taken over as his primary source of news. He also made jokes about how some people take twitter a little too seriously.
All the World is a Stage: The Rise of Viral Video
This attention-grabbing session kept the audience hooked as Ali Gul Pir and Ali Aftab Saeed talked about their respective successes of song videos on Youtube. The session was moderated by NFP who spiced it with excellent questions. Aalo Anday has challenged many of the mainstream narratives and Waderai ka Beta introduced the whole Saeen phenomenon in the Pakistani social media. The session ended on a hilarious note as Sabeen Mehmood joined Ali Gul Pirfor for a few spontaneous dance moves set to Waderai Ka Beta.
Social Media in the classroom
Sabbah Haji, a school teacher from Kashmir, told the inspiring story of how she used social media to run a school located in a remote and inaccessible village in the mountains of Doda in Jammu and Kashmir. Facing a severe lack of qualified teachers, her appeals via twitter were heard throughout the country and volunteers offered their services as teachers. The presentation also included a video of the students of her school singing Shakira’s Waka Waka and Adele’s Rolling in the Deep in what may be the cutest rendition of these songs.
Corporate Blogger Meet-ups: Building or Buying Loyalty?
This session discussed the questions of why corporates are getting interested in bloggers and how their sponsorship affects content, especially whether a blogger is thereby restrained to voice only a positive review. The predominant opinion appeared to be that corporate sponsorship does affect credibility and content. However, opposing view was also argued for.
TwitLit: TS Prompts and Super Short Stories
Musharraf Ali Farooqi discussed the origins of the Twitter Stories, a Twitter-based exercise in fiction in which participants have to write a tweet-sized super short story based on three prompts. Mohsin Siddiqui and Faiza S Khan expressed their concerns about the potential and merit of twitter fiction. Omer Wahaj told about his on-going project of writing a whole novel on twitter, 4-5 tweets at a time.
Memes and the #FAT Phenomenon
This was supposed to be one of the entertaining sessions but ended up being one of the most boring. The three panelists pretty much talked about three separate things, with little unifying coherence. Zakir Thaver talked about meme theory and evolution to a bewildered audience who were expecting to hear more about internet memes. Ayesha Tammy Haq spoke on how Fashionistas Against Talibanisation had started, evolved and what role it was playing, making the session palatable but still lacking the sarcasm and humour that FAT forum is famous for online.
The Maya Khan takedown: In Praise of Slacktivism
Beena Sarwar explained that the Maya Khan incident was not an isolated event, and the social media campaign was not against a single person, rather it was against a particular mindset that still exists and that we need to look out for. She added that if it wasn’t for social media, no one would have taken notice. Faisal Kapadia asked Mehreen Kasana if this represents the final awakening of Pakistani social media, in reply to which she said that it was already awake. Marvi Sirmed confirmed that after the Maya Khan take down TV producers have become more careful regarding what goes on air.
Dhobi Ghat: The Impact of Party Politics on Social Media
This engaging session dealt with the intersection of politics with social media. Dr. Awab Alvi explained how Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is actively using social media to garner support. PTI members are often accused of engaging in abusive behaviour and trolling, and Dr. Awab expressed his helplessness as social media is an open space and difficult to control. Marvi Sirmed voiced her concerns regarding how political parties are using social media to propagate ignorance among masses. Syed Ali Raza Abidi of MQM reiterated the importance of social media, stating that no political party can hope to win or be popular without having a solid presence on it. The session was moderated well by Beena Sarwar who managed to steer the panelists clear of any direct confrontations.
Fight Club: The Rise of the Troll
It was an enlivening session in which panelists discussed the mindset of trolling (‘Trolls are unhappy people’ - Bina Shah) and the various experiences they have had with trolls. Trolls are internet users who post provocative and unnecessary, often irrelevant, responses on internet forums, not infrequently resorting to abusive language. Raza Rumi talked about caution, Mohsin Sayeed advised giving trolls a taste of their own medicine, Bina Shah advocated a non-responsive attitude with blocking on twitter if necessary and Rub Nawaz talked about the possibility of reforming trolls by engaging them in a constructive manner.
The Rise of Online Comics
This session brought together the famous comic artists and illustrators Ramish Safa (of Kachee Goliyan), Adil Hussain (of Ali Art), Babrus Khan and Jugal Modi (India) as the panelists with Jahanzaib Haque of Jay Toons fame as the moderator. They talked about their reasons for going into online comics, their experiences, and discussed the scope and financial prospects.
Crowd funding films
In a session moderated by Mira Hashmi, the film makers Onir, Ali Kapadia and Assad Zulfiqar Khan talked about their experiences of using social media to gather funds for their film projects. Onir, from India, was especially a success story, while the two young film makers from Pakistan had not had that much of a success with regards to crowd funding. Ali Kapadia said that Shoaib Mansoor had contributed a great deal to film industry and expressed his view that advertisement industry was causing hindrances for filmmakers by diverting the flow of money.
Gustaakhi Maaf: Standup Comedy
Standup comedy by Sanjay Rajoura was a resounding success and immensely enjoyed by everyone. He lambasted everyone on social media, from Desi Indian and Pakistani guys to corporate fellows, and did not spare the US sponsors either! His punch-lines and quips evoked constant laughter. “Pakistan/India main dakaa par jae to police nai ati, larki ka hath pakar lo to foran aajati hai.” “Hamain Coke Studio day do, hamain Kolaveri di se kaam chalana par raha hai.” “IPL main saari raat daroo pilatay hain aur subah kehte hain khelo.”
Negotiating Complexity: Human Rights and Social Media
Ali Dayan Hasan expressed his views with examples on how social media is an excellent tool to disseminate information regarding human rights violations. However, he also stressed that online activism is not a substitute to actual activism, and that to be effective both need to be coupled together.
The Art of Storytelling
Mohsin Siddiqui discussed the art of fiction with the Indian authors Annie Zaidi and Jugal Mody, and the session was full of excellent advice from both writers. Jugal Mody expressed how story telling starts with a keera inside a person, and advised writers ‘Don’t write what you won’t read’. Annie Zaidi emphasised the importance of characters and plot, and opined that it is not a good idea for young writers to begin by writing about their own lives, and that she had made the same mistake herself early in her career as a writer.
Twitter is the New Newsroom: The Changing Face of Journalism
It was a fun and interactive session, moderated by Hassan Belal Zaidi, and included a number of panelists (Mehmal Sarfraz, Karuna John, Bilal Lakhani, Norbert Almeida and Mohammed Hanif). It was discussed whether Twitter is an effective medium for breaking and relaying news, and concerns about credibility were raised as many people break news on twitter without verifying their sources. By the end of the session a consensus had formed that social media cannot replace mainstream media, rather, both have to work in coordination to be more effective and credible.
- The author would like to acknowledge the official live twitterati for the event @SalmanLateef, @Komalali92 and @abdullasyed for doing an amazing job covering the event.