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[This post is part of an ongoing Profile of a Contemporary Conduit series on Jadaliyya that seeks to highlight distinct voices primarily in and from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.]
Jadaliyya (J): What do you think are the most gratifying aspects of Tweeting and Twitter?
Mehreen Kasana (MK): I think the idea of sharing opinions and interaction (with the sane lot) is always productive and achievable on Twitter. That and the constant influx of information, ideas, and updates on all sorts of issues are things that I appreciate.
J: What are some of the political/social/cultural limits you’ve encountered using the platform?
MK: Trying to explain cultural or religious issues within context to an outsider in 140 characters or less can initially be a little daunting and a little frustrating. But once I got the hang of brevity in Tweets, it became convenient to interact with certain people. But even then, there are moments when things are taken out of context, hyperbole happens, and the issue is derailed. In addition to that, I think social media platforms offer a lot of space for dialogue and even change, but then the constriction of that is that Tweets can only do so much. In this case, you need to go offline and mobilize your plans and efforts for whatever change you aspire to have.
J: In your experience and use of Twitter, do you feel it helps mobilize or disorganize? Focus or crowd? Is it manageable or noisy? Can it help persuade and mobilize or does it turn everyone into a voyeur and spectator?
MK: It's really tough to say. I would say: yes and no. Twitter mobilizes and disorganizes depending on the attention a certain topic gets. I did an online campaign on challenging the political narrative about Pakistanis which is inherently biased and racist, and it garnered a lot of attention; it eventually ended up on Huffington Post and Global Voices. In that case, Twitter mobilized my effort. But then there was the case of several Pakistani Twitter users attempting to initiate a group of gender rights speakers, workers, etc., but it went on a tangent (by overly critical cynics) so badly, that it was just a sorry spectacle. I have seen an ample number of instances of successful campaigns and complete failures. It depends a lot on how focused you remain to keep that issue on point and relevant.
[Image of Mehreen Kasana.]
J: What initially made you decide to start using Twitter as a platform? Where you a Journalist, writer, scholar, student, before you opened your account?
MK: I was a student when I started Twitter back in 2010, if I remember correctly. I was teaching in between. I started Twitter for networking mainly. I had no idea more than 12K people would join me over time.
J: How do you manage criticism, personal attacks, and hostility online and offline?
MK: Thick skin. The more followers you get, the more likely it gets for you to be attacked, often with ad hominem rage. I've been threatened by plenty. I've been under unnecessary 'trolling' and it keeps happening. But I've learned one thing: You cannot let petty rage bring you down. Hostility online is a lot different than hostility offline, in my opinion. I can handle constructive criticism and I appreciate it sincerely, but then you'll always e-bump into people who just don't like you for the sake of not liking you. That is the type that doesn't deserve acknowledgment, which is why social networks invented the Block option. I use it generously. But hostility offline is tougher to handle. I believe in either confronting or ignoring - depending on how significant the person is. I can't let incendiary folks pull me down; I don't have the time for that.
J: What sort of tweets did you find to draw the most response and circulation?
MK: Political ones in addition to humor, in my experience. The South Asian culture jokes are responded to and circulated often. Some very important regional topics are shared and discussed at length, e.g. Balochistan, Kashmir, Pakistan-Afghanistan issues, visa policies between India and Pakistan, the ISI and the Pakistani Army, Karachi, agricultural issues in Punjab, etc. I also love how easily hashtags pool traffic in. The #MuslimRage tag was brilliant; that's one example of how a political issue presented by a magazine in a highly narrowed fashion was brilliantly dismantled by the people said magazine tried depicting in a certain light. But sometimes some very important issues go ignored - intentionally or not, I can't say. US war resister Kimberley Rivera's deportation is one of those issues that haven't been commented on enough. Or the issue of the recent death of a Gitmo detainee who was sold by the then-Pakistani government to the USA is another topic that hasn't been under discussion at decent length. Those are the things that remain shrouded in uncertainty and remain unacknowledged.
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