Social media has given a voice to a large majority in Pakistan. Those who would rarely get a chance to voice their opinions have become subject matter specialists and expert commentators on just about everything under the sun. Some of the comments that you read in social media, whether they are on Facebook groups or in the comments section of an online article, are often vile, in bad taste and devoid of all kinds of ethics, manners or courtesy. Majority of comments are nothing but the true reflection of our collective social mindset — one that is contrived, irked and laden with anxiety. We do criticism for the sake of criticism. Our only pastime is how to bring people down, how to mock the ones that don’t tow our line. It is extreme prejudice, negativity and regression. It is also a sign of the times. No other country has regressed so much intellectually in the last three decades as Pakistan. The brain drain is evident from our radicalised belief systems, grave intolerance and a deteriorating civic sense or an absolute absence thereof. It is not surprising then if people mock or gang up together on social media against something that displeases their aesthetics, who are questionable themselves. The voice of reason is nowhere to be found. In these social gang wars that escalate in a matter of minutes, people are torn apart, reputations are tarnished, and permanent labels are put upon those in the line of fire. These wars are no different from the mobs that flood the streets to take people to task, often along with their lives. There have been a number of incidents recently demonstrating the extreme antipathy of the people. There are segments of the public that do not take long to take lives of those who do not conform, even if it is about a mere difference of opinion. Then how is it that we expect that anyone will be spared from the wrath of these keyboard jihadists? A recent example and perhaps a more topical one is of Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel laureate who has done whatever it is in her capacity to propagate a message of resilience, education for all girls and peace. It is fine to have polarising opinions on topics, on personalities, but it is not okay to bash people because we are insecure about ourselves. Malala may have had an issue with the way her image is hijacked by the West and the very projection of it. A recent article very articulately puts this into perspective. However, to have an absolute pit of hatred against a girl who is only 21 and trying her best to navigate through a complex 21st-century socio-political landscape does not need to be shunned. We should celebrate her and own her, so we are able to project her as our hero, as someone who stood against the atrocities of Taliban — the vile men who are responsible for robbing us of our future. An extremist faction that is not only a curse on the image of a peaceful religion like Islam but those who brutally shot more than 150 of our own, beautiful, innocent kids and driven by deep power politics, will do anything to achieve their objectives. What are the sentiments of the people of Nigeria for Boko Haram? Can we equate the same towards Taliban instead of putting Malala down? A number of examples have upset people of many beliefs and mindsets. Actor Mahira Khan’s picture of smoking a cigarette let the Naik Parveen conformists lose along with male chauvinists making a remarkable contribution to the onslaught of pathetic comments that surfaced on almost every online outlet that carried the picture. Do women not smoke? Should they not smoke? What part of the conformity do they challenge? Smoking is bad for you, but according to stats, millions of people smoke in Pakistan. An extremist faction that is not only a curse on the image of a peaceful religion like Islam but those who brutally shot more than 150 of our own, beautiful, innocent kids and driven by deep power politics, will do anything to achieve their objectives. What are the sentiments of the people of Nigeria for Boko Haram? Can we equate the same towards Taliban instead of putting Malala down? It might have been absolutely fine if Humayoun Saeed or another actor comparable to the stature of Mahira were pictured during a cigarette break. The rage was real. It was against the conformist image of a woman in Pakistan — one who does not smoke. Women and men both should not smoke — because obviously it is injurious to health, but that is about it. If one chooses to indulge in it, no one should have a problem with it. You are free to choose your poison. It is of no real surprise then that this negativity, fuelled by our deep insecurities, is evident in every sphere of life. Instead of building each other up, we do the exact opposite of that. We do not behave like a nation but as individuals who are all up to our own agendas. And in the pursuit of those, we will never hear a difference of opinion against us. Sana Safinaz, a fashion brand, came under the line of fire by another class of keyboard jihadists: those who uphold the values of morality in a country where the lives of the disadvantaged are cheaper than the fuel that runs our cars. Minorities and the disadvantaged are ridiculed every day, and while two wrongs do not make a right, it is contestable whether, in the first place, the brand’s advertisements were making fun at all of the Masai community in Africa. It may be an example of cultural appropriation, but we seem to have lost the message. We need to look at ourselves, and we need to take concrete actions to help minimise the differences that exist amongst us. Those who can take to the keyboard and pass comments are a lot more advantaged than the larger majority. We all share a bigger responsibility. The reasons for our often pathetic viral behaviour are very deep-rooted. They are the same that exist between those who have and have not. Those who are privileged and the ones that are disadvantaged. We have stark polarisations that do not help but fuel more insecurities and negative marches. All is not so grim. However, we do have segments in our society that are making strides towards progress. We have a lot of introspection to do. This should not be taken as a sermon but as a reflection and a caution that dictates courtesy, respect and empathy more than anything else. As they say, we have to agree to disagree. The writer has worked as a print and broadcast journalist in Pakistan and has contributed to a number of publications Published in Daily Times, April 6th 2018.