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The Facebook Revolution

The Pakistan Youth Alliance’s (PYA) logo is striking. Placed on the right-hand side of their Facebook page as the display picture, it features a young man yelling, his face painted a patriotic green and white. It’s supposed to exhibit the anger and frustration the youth of Pakistan feel. This is exactly the kind of emotion that the PYA wants to channel into a potent force for the betterment of society.

While it is certainly true that only a small percentage of the country’s youth has access to Facebook, this small percentage seems ready to make a change. For example, after the March 3 attacks on the Sri-Lankan cricket team, the PYA organised a walk and vigil in Islamabad to show solidarity with the victims of the attack. Crowds of people gathered in the streets with candles and placards expressing their sentiments for the innocent and defenseless who are often the real victims of terror. In Karachi, PYA organised a seminar on Swat, entitled, “Swat, heaven on earth or haven for extremism?” which was held at the National Law University on April 26. More recently, they organised a massive fund-raising effort for the rehabilitation of the IDPs

Many youth-based organisations are organised through Facebook, the PYA was created in the aftermath of the Emergency Rule of 2007. Founder Syed Ali Abbas envisioned it as a socio-political awareness campaign that was meant to awaken the youth of Pakistan from their apathy. “Our focus was to create street activists rather than sit-at-home activists,” Abbas explains. Street activists, it would seem, is indeed what they have created. The PYA has organised dozens of events across the country, be it a peace rally after an air space violation by India in Islamabad, or a car and bike rally participation in Lahore for the restoration of an independent judiciary.

Their methodology was simple: use Facebook to recruit and coordinate members, and thus spread their message quickly and effectively. Today, they have a decentralised structure in which area heads are nominated from within their particular domains and each must seek approval from a central executive body. With approximately 2,700 members, the red tape is not unwarranted.

It comes as no surprise that the ever-evolving Facebook has taken Pakistan by storm. Today, there are 714,600 people over the age of 18 who have registered Facebook accounts. Fourteen thousand of them are in college, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25. While most use Facebook as a way to display their photographs, inform their friends about their lives, and to stalk people’s daily activities, the web phenomenon has become part of a greater internet revolution – one that uses organisations such as the PYA to instigate activism.

“We have to revive and redefine patriotism to get actual output from it,” Abbas explains. “We keep debating on what the system should be, but trust me, it’s the people running it who’re wrong. No angels will descend from heavens to take Pakistan out of this chaos in which we are presently.”

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