PESHAWAR (The Thursday Times) — In a striking revelation, documents have surfaced elucidating how approximately 870 million Pakistani rupees of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) tax payer money was channeled towards recruiting over 1109 social media personnel under the guise of amplifying the initiatives of the KP government from 2021. The underlying agenda, as unearthed, steered towards bolstering the image and political standing of Imran Khan and his party, PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf).
Back in 2018, the PTI-led KP government floated a proposal with the ostensible aim of establishing “Social Media Participatory Platforms” under an annual development program (ADP). The recruitment of 1109 individuals was carried out in 2021, with the justification provided being to leverage these teams for projecting the progress and initiatives of the KP government, spreading grassroots-level awareness, and promoting national unity. According to Project PC-13, the qualification criterion was a 16-year education with the overall project cost pinned at 870 million rupees to be expended over two years.
These social media personnel, selected predominantly for their substantial followership on platforms like Facebook, Twitter (now X), and YouTube, were ostensibly brought on board to promote the achievements of the KP government. However, data analytics suggest a different narrative, revealing that 89% of the accounts managed by these personnel were created in the last four years and that these individuals already had 2139 social media accounts across various platforms.
The analysis digs deeper to expose a purportedly malicious agenda where these social media teams were allegedly harnessed for advancing the political objectives of PTI, running propaganda campaigns encompassing demonisation, disinformation, conspiracies, and fake news. This extensive network of pre-existing accounts with a combined followership of 42.37 million was mobilised for social media propaganda crusades aimed at projecting PTI’s narrative.
A stark shift in the political allegiance of these accounts was observed. A random sample analysis of 800 pre-existing accounts (Facebook and Twitter) revealed that 72.5% had no political inclination towards PTI before the campaign began. However, during 2021 – 2022, all accounts pivoted towards promoting extremely pro-PTI content, reverting to neutrality immediately after Imran Khan’s ouster in June 2022.
These accounts allegedly played a crucial role in the contentious events of May 9, engaging in inciting PTI workers and the public, thereby potentially instigating violence and even attacks on military installations. Post-April 2023, when their salaries were halted by the KP government, these accounts saw a surge in followership from 42.37 million to 58.8 million, indicating their sustained influence despite the cessation of government funding.
The influencers have yet to hand over these accounts to the KP Government, despite these platforms being run on government expenses.