PTI’s Digital Triumph | Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf


PTI’s Digital Triumph: A Roar of Resilience Against Authoritarian Oppression

As Pakistan hurtles towards the pivotal February 8 elections, the democratic promise faces a formidable adversary — a specter of deranged authoritarianism that threatens the very core of political freedom. Recent revelations by Al-JazeeraThe InterceptHuman Rights Watch and many other outlets have laid bare a disconcerting reality: a calculated campaign to suppress media freedom, stifle free speech, and tilt the electoral playing field against Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). However, in the face of mounting challenges, PTI’s social media team has emerged as a beacon of innovation, employing ingenious techniques to reach citizens nationwide, reminiscent of cornered tigers fighting for survival.

The media landscape in Pakistan has witnessed a troubling suppression, with journalists reporting warnings to enforce a near-blanket ban on the coverage of PTI, creating an atmosphere of coercion and control. The revelation from The Intercept about a secret meeting in Islamabad, where media owners were allegedly instructed to cease all coverage of Imran Khan, underscores the perilous collusion between power and media influence. Such manipulation of narratives has reached an unprecedented level, stifling free speech and democratic discourse.

Imran Khan’s continued incarceration and the imprisonment of PTI’s top leadership exacerbate the challenges. The recent unjust ban on PTI’s electoral symbol further compounds the obstacles, leaving the party with limited avenues for a fair and competitive campaign. Yet, in the face of this orchestrated suppression that transcends traditional political rivalries, PTI has become a symbol of resilience, adapting to unconventional methods in an effort to break through the walls closing in on democratic discourse.

In response to these challenges, PTI has demonstrated agility and creativity in its campaign strategies. Forced to explore unconventional methods, the party organized rallies on platforms like YouTube and TikTok to reach its impassioned supporters, making a significant impact in the digital space.

One standout strategy employed by PTI’s social media team involves the use of AI voice generation to deliver Imran Khan’s speeches. Despite being incarcerated, Khan’s messages are conveyed through generative AI, showcasing the party’s commitment to engaging with the electorate even when traditional avenues are restricted.

Additionally, PTI’s use of technology extends to the virtual realm, with the launch of websites and a chatbot on Khan’s Facebook page. These platforms provide information about local candidates for the upcoming polls, overcoming the bans swiftly imposed across Pakistan. The chatbot, in particular, shares Whatsapp channel information for each constituency, enabling voters to actively participate in the campaign.

The party has also embraced secretive campaigning led by female teacher volunteers, demonstrating resilience despite the imprisonment of its leader and allegations of politically motivated charges against its candidates.

PTI’s innovative use of technology, particularly AI voice generation, has not gone unnoticed on the global stage. The CEO of The Atlantic and former member of Wired publication, Nicholas Thompson, called Imran Khan’s AI voice The Most Interesting Thing in Tech”. He highlighted the uniqueness of using AI to enable an imprisoned political figure to address supporters via video conference, showcasing a revolutionary use of technology.

In a recent article by Guardian, Harassed constantly’: Imran Khan’s party fights state pressure in Pakistan election, Jibran Ilyas, PTI’s head of social media, said even as the state had attempted to shut down many of these online campaigning methods, “in this day and age, they can not stop the flow of information”.

“The crackdown on our party has only forced us to innovate even more, and I can see from our data how many people in Pakistan are seeking out information about their PTI candidates,” said Ilyas. “We are doing out best to get the highest turnout in the history of Pakistan and I’m optimistic that will bring us back to power.

In an another article, Jibran Ilyas told Al-Jazeera

“We saw the suppression against our party. We saw how depressed the people were. We saw some of our rallies scuttled by the authorities. It made us think, what if we try to hold a ‘virtual rally’ and dodge this ban on us,” Ilyas told Al Jazeera.

“He [Khan] was unclear what a virtual rally meant and thought we would do something on Zoom. But we explained what we will do, that we will show testimonials from PTI chapters globally, and when we explained our idea, he gave the go-ahead,” the social media lead added.

With a nationwide literacy rate of under 60 percent, symbols or visual representations remain crucial for the public to recognize their preferred candidate or party. Therefore, PTI had opted to escalate its guerrilla tactics.

“Within a night our team came up with the idea of setting up a portal online where users can enter in the constituency number and they would receive the name of the candidate, and their symbol,” he said.

The innovative strategy of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also garnered attention across the globe including Financial Times, as highlighted in their recent article titled Imran Khan taps AI and TikTok to campaign in Pakistan election from jail.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is using AI voice generation to deliver his speeches from notes passed to his lawyers. The PTI is hosting digital rallies on TikTok and has a chatbot on Khan’s Facebook page that provides information about local candidates for the February 8 polls. 

Similarly Economic Times, in its article How Imran Khan is campaigning from jail in Pakistan: AI and covert canvassing added:

As Pakistan’s Feb. 8 election approaches, Imran Khan’s PTI party is relying on a two-pronged strategy, utilizing both generative AI technology and secretive campaigning led by female teacher volunteers. Despite Khan’s imprisonment and accusations of politically motivated charges against PTI candidates, the party aims to maintain its support through digital initiatives and reminders of Khan’s leadership. The use of generative AI for creating speeches and online rallies underscores PTI’s efforts to engage with the electorate amidst challenges and restrictions. 

Similarly, Khaleej Times also was all praise for PTI’s innovative approaches in its article: How Imran Khan is campaigning from jail in Pakistan: AI and covert canvassing

The PTI is deploying a two-pronged campaign strategy of secretive campaigning, often led by female teacher volunteers, and generative AI technology, according to interviews with fifteen of its candidates and supporters, as well as political analysts and IT experts.

In a recent piece by BBC, Imran Khan: How Pakistan ex-PM plans to win an election from jail, Caroline Davies added:

There have also been efforts to use tech to try to help voters know which candidate is PTI-backed. Without the uniting image of the cricket bat, the PTI have developed a website where voters can put in their constituency and discover their PTI-backed candidate’s symbol.

Whereas BBC Urdu also quipped:

Imran Khan’s AI voice cloning by PTI’s social media team was launched in this virtual rally in December last year and became very popular. Meanwhile, due to the shutdown of the internet, ‘people who did not know about it also got to know about it.’

DW Urdu, in its article, Support of social media for Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which is suffering from government restrictions noted:

PTI’s intensive online election campaign has brought about a major change in the traditional methods of reaching out to voters. Those wishing to ban Imran Khan and his party seem unable to counter them online yet.

Additionally, FirstPost also published a recent article Pakistan elections 2024: Can Imran Khan, Prisoner No 804, win the elections from jail? which stated: 

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan is jailed (Prisoner Number 804) and barred from contesting the 8 February polls. But that has not stopped the 71-year-old leader of the PTI party from campaigning. He’s using chatbots, AI and social media to energise his supporters and vote for his candidates.

And recently, Reuters and NBC News also released a comprehensive piece, How Imran Khan is campaigning from jail in Pakistan: AI and covert canvassing, on how Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has adopted a multifaceted campaign approach amidst the challenges posed by a suppressive political environment, utilizing a combination of secretive campaigning led by female teacher volunteers and innovative generative AI technology, the party is navigating a complex electoral landscape.

The PTI is deploying a two-pronged campaign strategy of secretive campaigning, often led by female teacher volunteers, and generative AI technology, according to interviews with fifteen of its candidates and supporters, as well as political analysts and IT experts. The party has used generative AI to create footage of Khan, its founder, reading speeches he conveyed to lawyers from his prison cell, urging supporters to turn out on election day. It has organised online rallies on social media that have been watched by several hundred thousand people at a time, according to YouTube data. 
PTI also created an app that allows Facebook and WhatsApp users to find the party’s candidate in their constituency. Many voters had identified PTI with its cricket bat electoral symbol but the electoral commission recently banned PTI from using it on the technical grounds that it did not hold an internal leadership election. The decision means the PTI candidates are running without official party affiliation. The PTI has also held online rallies in an attempt to recreate jalsas, the massive Urdu-language rallies that take place in parks and major intersections nationwide. But voters have had trouble accessing the rallies. Since Khan’s first arrest in May, the Netblocks global internet monitor found six disruptions of access to social media platforms including YouTube, X and Facebook at times when the PTI was holding virtual jalsas.

According to Yahoo News and France24Khan’s party navigates Pakistan blackouts to keep campaign alive, PTI has embarked on a revolutionary approach to election campaigning in Pakistan, leveraging social media rallies and cutting-edge AI technology to navigate through a nationwide crackdown that has even targeted its online activities.

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s party has redefined election campaigning in Pakistan with its social media rallies and use of AI technology in a bid to sidestep a nationwide crackdown that has followed it online.

Despite facing hurdles such as the recent ban on its cricket bat electoral symbol and disruptions to social media access during virtual rallies, PTI persists in its endeavor to engage voters and recreate the fervor of traditional jalsas through digital means.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) robust online election campaign has undeniably ushered in a significant shift in conventional voter outreach methods. In the face of attempts to ban Imran Khan and his party, the adversaries seem to be struggling to mount an effective online counter-campaign. The world is witnessing PTI’s tenacity in the face of adversity, with the party’s social media team spearheading a campaign that defies restrictions and captivates a global audience. PTI’s ability to adapt, innovate, and campaign aggressively despite hurdles positions them as formidable contenders, leaving a lasting impression on the landscape of digital politics.

Article by: Umer Azad

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