Black Thursday Bombings, Media Coverage and Twitter

On 10, January 2013 two suicide bombers ripped through a snooker club on Alamdar Road, Quetta in North West of Pakistan’s troubled Province Balochistan targeting a neighbourhood dominated by ethnic Hazara Shiites, killing at least 115 people in total and wounding more than 270. The first bomber went inside the snooker hall and blew him up exactly at 8.50 PM followed ten minutes later by a second car bomb outside the building after police, rescue and media personnel had arrived at the scene. The intensity of the blast destroyed the multi storey building and damaged surrounding buildings. The hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of casualties and struggled in the face of worst ever terror attack in Quetta city. The banned outfit LEJ (Lashkar-e- Jhangvi) responsible for similar previous attacks on ethnic Hazara Shiites claimed the responsibility for the twin bombing.

The bombing was also responsible for the first deaths of journalists in Pakistan in 2013 in which three journalists and two camera crew died from the second bombing when they were covering the aftermath of first one. Sadly, the deadly massacre sounded not sensational enough for mainstream news media channels to provide due coverage to the terrorist atrocities that had hit the city and most of the news channels had resumed back to broadcasting protest march in Islamabad led by Tahir ul Qadri calling for electoral reforms in the country after breaking the news. The issue of lack of media coverage to terror incidents in Balochistan province has been a burning debate where most human rights activists, political parties and civil society has condemned the media blackout in the Province especially to terror related events which otherwise gets full media coverage in other parts of the country. As the mainstream media continued to ignore providing coverage to the Hazara community genocide many were turning to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to register their anguish and by staging a sit in and refusing to bury the dead until the provincial government is removed and they are provided greater security against everyday life of bullets and bombings.

The sit-in at Quetta’s Alamdar Road staged by thousands of people including women and children from the Hazara Shia community continued over night under freezing temperatures and rain while the mainstream media totally ignored the protest. Many of the tweets at that time depicted the moods and feelings of people like the ones below:

As the sit in entered its third day the protest movement had spread across the country thanks to social media sites especially Twitter and Facebook where many were calling the callous, inhumane, shameless leaders of present Government to act and mainstream news media to provide non-stop coverage of the issue to build pressure on government for some concrete actions. Most political parties which were absent from the scene were coming to join in solidarity and some for face saving in front of the nation.

Meanwhile, the hashtags #Quetta #ShiaGenocide #LeJ #WeallareShia was trending on Twitter in Pakistan. At a time when mainstream media was ignoring the issue activists and protesters were using Twitter to communicate and share images of disparity, hopelessness and brutality that had struck the people. The figure below is global mention of #Quetta on Twitter and it is interesting to note the way mention of #Quetta had increased over the period of time after the bombing and reached its peak level on the 13th of January 2013 i.e. when the Prime Minister of Pakistan flew to Quetta to address Hazara community grievances and announced live on television that he had accepted all their demands, including the sacking of the provincial government and the suspension of its legislature.

The second peak in the figure below is on the 16th of February 2013 when another bomb had targeted young school children and women in Hazara town killing 84 and injuring 200. Again Twitter played an important role in protesting and mobilizing activists all across the country against the inhumane act.

The fascinating thing about social media sites and digital age activism is that it has made it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate and raise voice to their concerns which previously was not only difficult but in some situations impossible. There is no doubt that mainstream media is still big and dominant in variety of social, political and cultural domains but these new tools are catching up with them and gradually re-configuring the entire media landscape and also transforming older forms of Mediatization with newer ones interestingly eroding some powers of mainstream media. The Black Thursday activism and use of Twitter was the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government had to be removed where social media sites in particular Twitter played a pioneer role. This kind or magnitude of thing would not have been possible in a pre internet age and also shows how internet in empowering people especially giving the voiceless a voice to be heard across the world on a scale never witnessed before.

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