Social media has shaped politics around the world and its influence is growing. Google executive Wael Ghonim used a Facebook group to help spark the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. President Trump told Fox News that “maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter.” But is social media a threat to Pakistan’s revolving door politicians, dynastic political parties, and their devoted patrons? Maybe. Imran Khan’s entry into politics has altered Pakistan’s political discourse. His potent message of economic independence, anti-corruption, and standing up to the US has proven popular. After the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, Imran Khan asserted that “the biggest lesson to learn is that Pakistan should stand on its own feet, say no to aid and be a sovereign country.” On June 30, 2017 he tweeted the cover of a new book by Raymond Davis, the CIA agent who was permitted to leave Pakistan after killing two individuals in an altercation, and urged Pakistanis to read it so they could understand why Pakistan is “treated with so little respect internationally.” As an outsider Imran Khan has always benefited when press freedoms are liberalised. In a 2008 interview at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a DC think tank, he described a “silent revolution in Pakistan” that was led by independent television channels. He added that current-affairs programs were more popular than soap operas in Pakistan and General Pervez Musharraf permitted such programs to exist early in his tenure as prime minister until they ceased to benefit him. This led Musharraf to order Geo and ARY One World off the air in 2007 and PML-N has attempted its own curtailments via the passage of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. But the beauty of social media is that it’s a voluminous forum to monitor and even more difficult to censor. Already known for his ability to shut down cities with rallies, Imran Khan’s virtual megaphone is enviable. PTI’s Twitter account recently celebrated reaching three million followers compared to PPP (excluding@BilawalHouseKhi) and PML-N which combined have 623,000 followers. Meanwhile Imran Khan’s personal Twitter account has 5.92 million followers and grew by 300,000 last month. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif have a larger online presence than their parties with 2.09 million and 3.57 million followers respectively. Social media sites serve as an open forum for political aspirants in Pakistan but still have a limited reach. Despite the Supreme Court’s recent decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, the PML-N need not be too concerned about losing its constituents in rural Punjab just because of PTI’s effective social media campaign. PML-N’s positioning of Shahbaz Sharif to eventually take the reins from Shahid Khaqan Abbasi demonstrates its confidence. The same holds true for the PPP in Sindh and among liberals. Political discussion is still dominated by the print media, talk shows, and conversation. Cracks are beginning to form in Pakistan’s political dynasties. If parties do not adjust then the age of mass communication and the Internet’s ability to give outsiders a voice will not be kind to them Going into the US presidential election many commentators discounted Trump’s Twitter tactics because in 2016 only 21 percent of American adults were active on the website with a slant towards the young, educated, and middle-class, all of whom were likely Hillary Clinton supporters. But what analysts missed was that Trump’s tweets were shared on websites like Facebook as memes and screenshots where 79 percent of online American adults have a profile. The power of social media should not be underestimated in a country like Pakistan where cell phone and internet use is growing exponentially. Even the casual observer of the recent US election and current Pakistan election season cannot help but see similarities. Online critics of PTI portray its adherents as being quintessential ‘burgers.’ The Twitterati of the traditional parties castigate Imran Khan fans as privileged idealists bearing resemblance to the Clinton supporters who labelled online defenders of Bernie Sanders as misogynistic hipsterfied internet trolls or “Bernie Bros.” Imran Khan faces his own charges of misogyny and Ayesha Gulalai is his latest high profile accuser. PTI supporters are depicted as Taliban apologists and haters of all things progressive, most notably Malala. PPP members in particular make this charge and it’s reminiscent to the way Democrats attacked Trump’s followers as closet racists, Christian fundamentalists, and overall deplorables. But when Imran Khan is met with disdain and mockery this only amplifies his anti-elitist image. Donald Trump demonstrated to the world that a political outsider with celebrity status, a populist message, and a strong social media presence is a force to contend with. But ultimately the goal of any politician is to be elected and so Imran Khan cannot rely on his outsider status forever. His message of economic independence means nothing without a tangible policy. His calls for law and order will be questioned when Arif Khan, alleged murderer of Mashal Khan, left Pakistan on PTI’s watch. And his aspirations for unity will be tested when he embraces such polarizing figures as Irfanullah Marwat or Mithu Mian. Most risky is his self-cultivated image of unimpeachable honesty because unlike other figures a relatively minor scandal could upend his campaign. His message may be more sustainable as an outside critic than leader of Pakistan and if he is elected who is to say that PTI will not become a ‘PTI-IK’ that permanently revolves around one charismatic figure. Many factors affect elections and we should not exaggerate the significance of what transpires online. It is quite possible that a 28-year-old with the right name and party behind him could win an election. Far from defeated the Sharifs may yet rise again. Imran Khan may never be elected or when elected become everything he criticizes while falling prey to Articles 62 and 63 himself. But cracks are beginning to form in Pakistan’s political dynasties and if parties do not adjust then the age of mass communication and internet’s ability to give outsiders a voice will not be kind to them. The writer is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and served in Afghanistan. He works as a policy analyst and focuses on South Asia and Iran. He tweets at @AdamNoahWho Published in Daily Times, August 3nd 2017.