Grenfell: social media a tool to be feared by the state

Grenfell: social media a tool to be feared by the state


The poor working-class of London are angry. And rightly so, following last week’s tower block blaze that killed more than the 7/7 attacks on the city. Their fury is something from which Theresa May cannot escape. Indeed, it makes the prospect of a second general election this year all the more likely.

We stand with the working-class of the north Kensington area; the immigrants, the refugees, the people of colour. The people whom the local authorities deemed nothing more than a blot on the lush landscape of the wealthy on whose turf they were allocated social housing, with not a sprinkler system in sight. We stand with those who were incarcerated in Grenfell Tower, with its recent refurbishment job done on the cheap and that so furiously fanned the flames.

Yet if there is one ‘positive’ to be had — it is the power of social media. Back in the day, London’s Hyde Park was famous for its Speakers’ Corner sessions on a Sunday. Whereby anyone could hold court, as long as he had a box of some sort to stand upon and the police found speeches lawful. Today, anyone with a smartphone and a social media account has a soapbox to go.

Thus from this side of the world, as the nation gears up for the latest episode of the Real Sharifs of Lahore: Wealth and Assets Uncut — the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy offers us a little hope. The black British (male) protestor who called out the BBC for acting as the mouthpiece of the corrupt Tory government. He gives us hope. Another black British gentleman who says what the mainstream does not want said: that this would never have been allowed to happen to blonde-haired and blue-eyed children. He gives us hope, too. That this was all filmed on mobile phones before going viral, this gives us immense hope.

For we understand that there are lessons here for Pakistan and its citizenry, for sure. How many more Joseph Colonies do we need? How many more brutal targeted assassinations of Shias, Ahmadis? How many more death sentences are going to be handed out for ‘blasphemous’ content shared on social media? Yet it would be all too easy to blame the citizenry for not doing more to use social media to hold the state apparatus to account. But Pakistan is a country where such cyber excursions can get you ‘disappeared’, or worse.

But let us imagine for just one moment — however short-lived — the immense power that social media affords to ordinary folk to shame and shame again a national government. And for that regime — admittedly due to the culmination of recent political upheaval of its own making — to have nowhere to hide.

We, at this paper, have no qualms calling out what we find to be false pretensions of British democracy. Yet in this instance, facts are facts. The citizenry of that nation have non-state controlled access (or as much as can be guaranteed in today’s climate) to social media. Meaning that the latter becomes a tool — when in the hands of the people — to be feared by the state. In Pakistan, social media is policed by not just the security but also the political establishment, thereby effectively turning it into a tool of state oppression.

We know which picture we prefer.  *