Have you ever been to a conference where it’s polite to start tweeting on your cell phone during the keynote address? Welcome to Social Media Summit 2014, organized for the tech savvy youth of modern Pakistan by the Progressive Youth Forum, and sponsored by a grant from the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network.
As the conference of 400 bloggers, journalists, and social media activists began, live tweets from the audience -- 140 character opinions -- flashed across a projector screen in real time.
Macon Phillips, Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), gave a video message of support to attendees during the summit’s opening night session and Secretary Kerry even joined the action. The Secretary shared Ambassador Olson’s selfie and tweeted about it.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) March 29, 2014
What is social media? Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr and the blog you are reading right now are examples of social media. Unlike television, newspaper, and radio, the audience gets to talk back. Dialogue. Just look at the comments section at the bottom of your screen.
The conference was organized by an active group of U.S.-government exchange program alumni, led by activist and International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus Abdullah Dayo, the general secretary of the Progressive Youth Forum.
“Abdullah was inspired by the dialogue that began on his U.S. exchange, and wanted to bring that conversation home,” said Jen McAndrew, a cultural attaché in Islamabad. “We were honored to support this alumni-led initiative.”
Panelists discussed the role of social media in media freedom, entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, peace promotion, and youth activism. U.S. expert Sean McDonald of FrontlineSMS spoke via Skype and there was even a video conference with five young social media experts from India, focused on regional cooperation.
With more than 2,000 tweets featuring the event hashtag #SMS14 on March 30, the summit became one of the country’s most-discussed topics, reaching No.1 on Pakistan’s hashtag trend list--at least until the Pakistan v. Bangladesh cricket match began.
Pakistan has a population of 190 million, 10-16 percent have regular internet access with about half accessing the internet through mobile devices. Facebook is the most visited website in Pakistan, outranking Google. About 93 percent of the Embassy’s Facebook followers live in Pakistan, most are in their early twenties, and are 73 percent male, a statistical outlier. In Pakistan, Twitter is primarily used by key influencers: political leaders, journalists, and celebrities. Embassy Islamabad runs the largest Facebook site of any U.S. overseas diplomatic mission worldwide -- now topping 1.4 million followers as a result of a surge in fans during and after the summit. Consulates General Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, and USAID Pakistan also enjoy an active Facebook audience, with a combined Mission Pakistan total of 2.8 million fans nationwide.
About the Author: Joan Sinclair is a Press Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.