Me, My Echo Chamber and I: Social media’s role in perpetuating cyber-nationalism, radicalization and self-identity in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority states.


Discussions on digital media largely revolve around the rise of an entrenched divide among the digital natives. Internet is seen as an enabler of radicalization and in effect concretizes pre-existing beliefs resulting in an echo-chamber, by means of homophily. However, it also cannot be denied, the potential of digital media to reinvigorate the practice of citizenship and assertion of hitherto marginalized identities as it gives the people the space to voice their opinions. To this end, users hailing from the Global South are increasingly shaping their own isolated online publics. Digital spaces like Twitter and Facebook are conducive in snowballing radicalization while playing a vital role in reshaping national identities, where notions of nationalism and religiosity often overlap. The changing nature and scope of media publics forms an important new ground for the staging of political, religious, cultural and social dynamics. It is in this context that one is witnessing the rise of a digital public in South Asian countries like Pakistan. Using Pakistan as a case study, this paper aims to investigate mediatized publics in countries that previously had been managed by the state. Within this context, the staggering rise of digital publics has brought forth issues of cyber-nationalism, radicalization, and questions of national identity – often categorized by “us” versus “them” or ‘discourse of sameness and discourse of difference.’ By gauging online discourse and trending hashtags on Twitter, this paper studies the phenomenon of political echo chambers on Pakistani social media, and its role in the rise in jingoism or polarization, as a result of feedback loops guiding users to toxic viewpoints, hate speech and even jihadist content. Three schools of thoughts (i.e. the Islamist, the Pluralists and the Nation-state) exist in Pakistan, which will lay the foundation for three ‘echo chambers’ for empirical research. This paper examines dominant topics and preemptive issues therein by analyzing the content of the tweets and categorizing varying discourse. While theorizing how the Pakistani Twittersphere functions as an echo chamber, this paper aims to explore digital practices, citizens’ behavior and national identity, from the lens of a region that is often under-researched in academia. Overall, it hypothesizes on the nature of the digital public in Pakistan, and by extension to other Muslim-majority nations with similar milieus and contribute to the emerging scholarship on the region vis-à-vis political discourse, collective identity and online engagement.