Twitter spaces: App-era Baithaks
DEVELOPING consensus among general public and promoting en-mas awareness regarding certain agenda as well as collecting diverse opinions from wide range of participants on certain policy issue is always been a desirable for public policy experts.
However such activities involve a lot of time, money and effort to produce meaningful results.
Information and communication technologies have lowered the barriers of cost, time and space.
With the arrival of social networking sites, connectivity has become far easier with flexibility of time and space.
Now people can connect everywhere with anyone who is part of internet community. In April, 2020, a social media app known as Clubhouse joined the comity of social media platforms.
Users that sign on can find and connect with contacts they already have on other social apps and join groups of people with shared interests.
Clubhouse provided opportunity of live audio chart for large groups like conference call but with up to thousands of listeners.
The app is only available to iOS users. As it is common in the world of technology someone comes with cloned service that copies key features of existing app besides adding newer and sophisticated features.
In March 2021, Twitter, a leading social networking platform, added Twitter Spaces to its existing Apple iOS and Android apps.
Twitter Spaces app is more convenient in usage as compared to Clubhouse. As far operating of spaces is concerned, every space is set up and given a title by a ‘host’ who can appoint up to two ‘co-hosts’ to assist him.
All others join the space as ‘listeners’. Hosts and co-hosts can hand out virtual microphones to listeners in the space elevating them to ‘speakers’.
Any speaker can then press a button on their screen to turn their mike on and speak to the entire group.
Hosts can take away and reassign mikes among listeners when deems necessary. A space can have anywhere from a handful up to thousands of listeners in it.
Like every communication platform, the user communities of these live audio chat platforms have developed their own code of acceptable conduct and behaviour.
Currently numerous spaces are operating on twitter. These pertain to different interest groups including entertainment, technology, politics, etc and growing enormously.
It is observed that social media platforms are promoting echo chambers where dissenting voices are limited and communication among likeminded participant amplifies rhetoric.
However twitter spaces leverage dissenting voices as well. Professionals such as data scientists, artificial intelligence expert have created their own spaces to conduct interactive lectures with larger audience.
There are spaces where different government officials are involved to develop consensus on contentious issues.
In Pakistan previous government used Twitter Spaces for discussion on Single National Curriculum which was hosted by the then Education Minister of Punjab.
This was an effort to create a broad range consensus on otherwise a contentious issue Freedom of expression, larger and diverse audience rightly place Twitter Spaces as app-era modern equivalent of traditional Baithaks; where different participants involve in public discussion of their common interest.
In Pakistan, different journalists, human right activists and politicians are found on twitter spaces to express their views which otherwise are not possible due to certain regulations enforced.
Surge in Twitter Spaces activities was observed during Aurat March and during political activity in the months of March-April 2022.
Twitter Spaces were the forum to discuss different points of view with much freedom and without barriers such as airtime and commercial advertisements.
Twitter Spaces leverage listener to directly communicate with authoritative source of information.
Spaces also facilitate easy access to those who are not well conversant in typing. Voice communication instead of text messages is a feature which overrides barriers of vocabulary.
The live speech medium avoids the kinds of misunderstandings caused by poor choice of vocabulary, the inability to convey tone, or limited ability of expressing themselves in writing that are all too common in lengthy text-based online back-and-forth discussions.
However, Twitter Spaces are also susceptible to less information density where speakers are low on facts and heavy on anecdotes.
Next election in Pakistan is not much far away. Understandably political parties would be remiss to exclude Twitter Spaces from their digital campaign strategies.
Coupled with access to internet capable devices, communication platforms like Twitter Spaces give more citizens access to public representatives, decision and policy makers.
Keen and wide participation by Pakistanis confirms that in the future, access to power and having a voice in democracy will be conditional on access to the internet; internet access is no longer a luxury but more of a human right.
Government must ensure that this human right is protected by provisioning stable and far reaching internet connectivity across Pakistan.
The emergence of live-audio digital public forums analogues to traditional Baithaks strengthens the case for inexpensive, ubiquitous nationwide internet connectivity to empower a more democratic citizenry.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.