We cannot think of media in its traditional form anymore – that which we see on TV, or in the news. Social media has gained enough traction to become arguably the most important form of media in present times, and when I think about the role it plays in conflict and education, I can’t help but think of Mashal Khan – a student who was lynched and ruthlessly murdered by a mob of students after being accused of blasphemy. There is a lot to unpack here about how the media aggravated this situation. Mashal Khan was murdered on 13th April, 2017. Just a month prior to that, Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister at that time, had given support to a social media crackdown on blasphemous content and tweeted about blasphemy being an unpardonable offence – a statement which could and possibly did have incredibly dangerous consequences.
The background of this incident is surrounded by a lot of rumors, inconsistencies, and uncertainties. Some claim he posted blasphemous content on his Facebook page while others claim he was simply criticizing the university for bureaucracy and overcharging students. The university then announced he was being investigated for blasphemous activity, and a mob was formed. This is often glossed over, but I wonder how the mob was created in the first place and how they coordinated their activities. We have all seen how social media (including WhatsApp) is used to spread misinformation and rumors. It breaks my heart to think that it is possible this mob was created because some students took this as an opportunity to spread rumors of him posting blasphemous content.
Social media gives everyone a voice in theory, and it can often turn into a very dangerous, conflict-and-violence-inciting tool, particularly against those whose voice is not "liked" or "accepted". Like-minded individuals easily come together to take on the role of vigilantes. Such disturbing activity can be seen in how minorities are targeted online – whether Muslims are targeted for terrorist activities or individuals of certain races are blamed for criminal activities. This has a very real impact on how students belonging to these groups are then treated, often resulting in violence. I would like to take this moment to remind everyone of how social media can heavily impact an individual’s access to education, and how the feeling of being unsafe can affect their focus due to the mental turmoil. It isn’t necessarily just in extreme cases of minority oppression, but even just considering how social media bullying, violation of privacy and rumors lead to acts of violence and depression, where students are either forced to quit their education or do so themselves due to the feeling of isolation. So, while media gives everyone a chance to express themselves, it also poses a very real threat to the safety of students, particularly without any checks and balances in place.