Original Articles

#SocMM12: Social Media Mela or Twitterati Kitty Party? – by Imaan Sheikh

Social Media Mela or Twitterati kitty party?

Related posts: A critical assessment of #SOCMM12 – Social Media Mela 2012 – by Wusatullah Durrani

#SOCMM12 in pictures: Punjabi-Muhajir elites and their wannabe middle class flatterers at Social Media Mela 2012

LUBP Editor’s note: Finally, a candid assessment of the so called Social Media Mela 2012 has appeared in mainstream media (Express Tribune). Participants and keynote speakers at SocMM12 represented anything but alternative media and discourse in Pakistani society. Worse, sessions on human rights and minority issues were used to insult and ridicule genuine Shia, Baloch, Ahmadi, Pashtun bloggers and activists whose absence in the event was glaringly evident. Sessions which should have been used to reflect on Nazi style silence on Shia genocide and other urgent humanitarian issues (kill & dump of the Baloch, ISI’s connivance with LeJ-ASWJ etc) were used to bash Twitter trolls and cyber bullies. On the contrary, persecution of Shias in Pakistan was misrepresented in ethnic (Hazara specific) terms. Similar misrepersentations were noted by Ahmadi and Baloch activists. In the main, SocMM12 was nothing other than a gossip show of the urban right-wing and pseudo-liberal elites of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, mostly Punjabi and Urdu speaking activists of MQM and PTI, who were surrounded by a handful of middle class wannabe flatterers. LUBP, Pakistan’s largest pro-rights blog in terms of traffic and alternative content, was absent from the event, as were other pro-rights blogs namely Al Ufaq, Tawar, Pamir Times, Pakistan Blogzine and World Shia Forum. (End note)

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Yesterday afternoon, I was at the Social Media Mela, (better known as SocMM12) at Avari Towers, Karachi. As I neared the hall where the particular session I had to attend was to be held, I heard they were running late ─ and fashionably so.

When I first saw #SocMM12 trending on Twitter, I immediately thought of guns (let’s blame rap songs on the radio for this). When I found out what it really was and I took a look at the event guide online, I made a biased assumption; this wasn’t going to really be a broad-horizoned ‘social media’ mela; it was going to be one big tweet-up.

As I sat outside the Indus hall for fifteen minutes, awaiting the session, many people who looked familiar walked by. These prominently included a spectacled, curly-haired girl, who turned out to be Mehreen Kasana; and a woman in a gaudy, yellow kurta with abindi on her forehead, who, to my surprise, did not turn out to be Marvi Sirmed.

Since the session I had to attend was delayed by almost an hour, I decided to attend Sana Kazmi’s ‘How I Got To Mohali’ session. Having heard her name on Twitter a lot, I was curious to see her in real life.

Upon entering the hall, I realised I was totally underdressed. Everyone else had suited up and here I was – hair unkempt, nose unpowdered, in my creased pick-anything-for-work outfit.

“So this is a tweet-up”, I said to myself, as I saw many prominent Twitterati in the hall.

Social media mela? I don’t know. I think it should have been called the ‘Indo-Pak Twitterati kitty party’ or the ‘Subcontinental Tweet-up’. And I say ‘Indo-Pak’ not because there were many Indians there, but because most Pakistanis were dressed like Indians. I thought they were from India until I heard them throw questions at the panel and tell them that they were Pakistani. Saris and bindis everywhere!

A way of welcoming our friends from across the border, perhaps?

With the exception of a few faces, all I saw was middle-aged, Twitter-savvy liberals kissing up to each other. They were chatting and laughing loudly, complimenting each other at any chance they could find. Some were seen looking like they we holding a very important discussion, but upon moving closer, one would discover that they were engaged in talking about something banal and obvious. In all, it looked like a kitty party of Pakistani elites who were friends and very active in the social media scene (just Twitter, really). They are often seen giving each other shout-outs on Twitter and inviting each other for dinners out of social media courtesy.

Sana Kazmi’s session went well. Although it seemed as though she had little experience addressing to an audience, I found her to be one of the most pleasant speakers there. It was quite an enjoyable half hour where she told about her amazing Twitter experience that landed her and her friends seats in the 2012 cricket world cup semi-final in Mohali. I’m glad I chose to attend this session because the one I was looking forward to ─ The Maya Khan Takedown: In Praise of Slactivism ─ had little to offer.

Probably, the only entertaining bit of the Maya Khan session was moderator Faisal Kapadia’s humorous remarks. The little enlightenment anyone got from it was points raised by Beena Sarwar. Occasional laughter was heard over Kasana’s comments, who I found to be as funny in real life as on her blogs. Upon being asked what we’ve gained from the Maya Khan takedown, Marvi Sirmed digressed into irrelevant details of unrelated things. After a good five minutes of incessantly telling everyone how she was suspected to be a CIA agent at age eight, she was interrupted by Kapadia to answer the real question. This did not stop her from going on another five minutes; only this time, it was a tad relevant.

A person from the audience I totally expected to raise his hand was Mohsin Sayeed. And, boy, did he have an agenda! He barely gave the panellists a break to respond and went on about how he thinks that slactivism targets are misogynistic picks. I don’t understand how this is misogynistic because the list includes Amir Liaquat and Mubashir Lucman, too. Saeed basically ordered everyone to point fingers at Kamran Shahid.

When I got done with the session, I moved to the refreshments section to see the speakers off stage and possibly talk to some ─ but for the most part, to grab something to eat! Of course, they were too busy talking to each other. A generally loud, jolly Mohsin Sayeed was seen hugging a confused, unwilling looking Sabeen Mahmud. A bunch of girls flipped their hair and occasionally talked in Urdu in their broken, made-up accents.

I sighed and moved forth to get my hands on some cinnamon sticks – easily one of the highlights of my day.

Read more by Imaan here or follow her on Twitter @SheikhImaan

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10 Comments

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  • Most disgusting part of SocMM12 was the appropriation of minority voice by Beena Sarwar, Ali Dayan and Mehmal. The former two are two key bullies on Twitter who routinely insult Shia, Baloch, Ahmadi, Pashtun bloggers. Mehmal, like the former two, worships Najam Sethi and presents her as a champion of the Baloch cause. Nothing could be more dishonest.

  • The handful of Indians who did catch a flight may not have been frustrated with the usual delays, but they must have brooded over whether they were attending a visa regime change conference between the arch-rivals or a Social Media Mela.
    Nevertheless, the introductions were amusing to say the least. One of the introductions went something along the lines: “I’m Sanjay … I don’t work”. The same Sanjay later went on to disclose his mundane conversation with journalist Mohsin Sayeed about a show he wanted to start, called “What’s with Indian women?”
    Still, Mumbai columnist Venkat Ananth took the cake cake when, unintentionally it seemed, he decided to divulge into the details of how long it took to travel from Mumbai to Karachi by boat – eight hours just in case you were wondering. It all made sense now: the visa regime, the Mumbai attacks, Rehman Malik and PIA – the biggest obstacles and promoters of social media interaction between India and Pakistan.
    ‘Have we got Barkha back?’
    When the Skype conversation with Dutt finally resumed – the only thing that was brought to the forefront were the trials and tribulations faced by the everyday Pakistani internet user. After yet another botched attempt, Dutt got back to Tweeting and the Social Media Mela was able to pick up the pieces and carry on with the show.
    Beena Sarwar, who somehow managed to decipher the gist of Dutt’s broken message, ‘basically’ gathered that social media had broken barriers in connecting people across the border.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/407901/a-disconnected-dutt-and-the-curious-case-of-the-indian-delegates/

  • Crisp blog, Iman. These mummy daddies or bugers don’t represent Pakistani society. They live in their own shells, better let them rot there.

  • Two critical views from ET:

    Afia:

    How could you possibly ignore the day-long programme of sessions on every conceivable topic connected to social media and, more importantly, the attendance at those sessions? If this was the sham you’re making it out to be, the halls wouldn’t have been going full… people would’ve just been milling outside the whole time. The sessions on internet bullying, entrepreneurship, minority rights and twitter literature were solid. People had fun, networked AND learnt a lot. I’d call that a successful social media summit, not a party parading as a social media summit.

    Ali Rehman:

    Dear Imaan
    This has become our national character… to be nitpicking! I really wanted to attend the Social Media Mela but couldn’t due to some personal reasons. However, I was very actively following it online. A great number of important topics related to social media were discussed. It certainly wasn’t about “elite” as you say since i know many “mango people” who attended and were a part of the panels. Actually some of the (so called) elites, like Mehreen Zahra actaully reflected in her tweet, her surprise over panelists/speakers not being from the calss you refer to. https://twitter.com/mehreenzahra/status/223826191830888448 With regards to being ordinary, it is our own doings which can make us extraordinary. A few months back, I was just a banker. I started writing, talking to people, got myself involved in a lot of things trying to add value to issues I faced as a common man. And I have been blessed with a good lot of people who have been very supportive. People like Ayesha Tammy Haq, Beena Sarwar, Faisal Kapadia, and many more. And I can see from yout TL on twitter that people were happy to see you too there!
    We need to learn to enjoy and celebrate good happenings. This certainly was an event in the positive direction.
    Regards
    Ali

  • Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law seemed to manifest itself in the earlier half of the event, which started an hour after the scheduled time. Some participants wondered whether they had walked into the wrong hall as they listened to some of The Beatles’ classic tunes, which the organisers played on the sound system to make the wait a more tolerable. The people at the event were hit by a double whammy when it was announced that Barkha Dutt, the managing editor of NDTV 24/7, would not be at the event since she could not get a visa on time. The rest of the event went on much more smoothly and participants were treated to some very informative sessions, including one on viral videos and the use of social media in the classroom. All was well for organiser Sabeen Mahmud as well, who got to shake the stress away on stage by dancing with none other than the “Wadera ka Beta” himself, Ali Pir Gul.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/407899/social-media-is-going-to-have-a-huge-impact-in-rural-areas/

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