The digital age offers a unique opportunity to revitalize democratic processes in Pakistan


At a multi-stakeholder consultation was organized by PILDAT under the project on September 14, 2023, participants were able to examine the digital landscape of Pakistan, emphasizing the potential and pitfalls of digital communication in promoting democratic processes. Historical revolutions were explored that shaped governance, the current state of digital democracy and the implications for Pakistan’s future.

A panelist stated that when we consider the progression of human civilization, we can highlight three major revolutions in communication: the advent of writing, which birthed empires; the printing press, ushering in nation-states and democracy; and the digital communication era. This ongoing digital revolution is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of governance, democracy, and civil engagement.

Another panelist stated that Digital communication has democratized information dissemination, transforming vertical communication channels that persisted for millennia into horizontal ones. This paradigm shift empowers citizens in unprecedented ways, from crowdfunded initiatives to real-time feedback on government processes, such as budget allocations and census data. Additionally, e-governance initiatives promote transparency and offer citizens greater access to parliamentary proceedings.

Challenges in the Digital Landscape were also discussed at the consultation. Despite its promise, the digital age presents significant hurdles such as:

Digital and Linguistic Divides: Limited internet access, with only 36.7% of Pakistanis connected, and language barriers hinder comprehensive digital engagement;

Digital Literacy: As the digital space grows, the propagation of misinformation and disinformation becomes rampant. The need for digital literacy – discerning genuine sources from false ones – becomes paramount;

Online Threats: The digital realm has become a hotbed for hate speech, harassment, especially against women, and threats that dampen democratic participation;

Legislative Challenges: Current legislation, such as the prevention of electronic crimes, often targets dissenting voices rather than providing security;

The Digital Space and Democratic Legitimacy: While platforms like TikTok dominate Pakistan’s digital space, Twitter remains the primary channel for political discourse, albeit controlled by the elite. Gender disparities and geographical digital divides further skew the representation. However, with increasing connectivity, more voices are emerging, demanding a safer and more inclusive digital sphere;

Media Freedom and Regulation: The state’s tightening grip on media freedom, particularly through misuse of legislation, stifles critical voices, making the fight against misinformation even more challenging. The need is for co-regulation, ensuring the media’s autonomy while maintaining accountability;

The Role of Digital Spaces in Elections: Although social media’s influence on elections is undeniable, it is essential to differentiate its impact from other political factors. A dearth of credible information on electoral processes on digital platforms further fuels misinformation.

Key specific Recommendations that emerged from the consultation and the research by PILDAT can be summed up as follows:

  1. Promotion of Digital Literacy: Incorporate digital literacy into curricula, ensuring youth are equipped to navigate online spaces.
  2. Legislative Reforms: Amend sections of current laws that target journalists, human rights defenders and women, ensuring protection rather than persecution.
  3. Strengthening Democratic Institutions: Foster respect for democratic norms and institutions, vital for the digital age’s successful integration.
  4. Capacity Building: In this information age, it is also crucial to build the capacity of fact-checking through the use of reliable websites and other sources.

The digital age offers a unique opportunity to revitalize democratic processes in Pakistan. By addressing current challenges and capitalizing on digital platforms’ strengths, Pakistan can foster a more inclusive, transparent and robust democratic system. A total of 32 representatives of the stake holders attended the session. 15 attendees were the representative of the Civil Society, 06 from the Academia, 2 members of the Senate of Pakistan and 9 members of the media attended the session.