Pakistanis overwhelmingly prayed for India at COVID-19 peak: Study

Islamabad: Most Pakistanis expressed supportive sentiments towards their Indian neighbours when the latter was reeling under a severe second Covid-19 wave, said an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven study.

The research focused on tweets expressing kindness, empathy and solidarity. It found out that most tweets that were posted by Pakistani citizens between 21 April and 4 May were positive, the Geo TV reported.

Led by Ashique KhudaBukhsh, the team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) based their study on 300,000 tweets. The team accepted only the tweets with the three biggest trending hashtags: #IndiaNeedsOxygen, #PakistanStandsWithIndia and #EndiaSaySorryToKashmir. Of them, 55,712 tweets came from Pakistan, 46,651 from India and the remaining were posted from the rest of the world.

With the help of an artificial intelligence tool, “hope speech classifier”, they found Pakistani tweets containing supportive hashtags were by far more than those containing non-supportive hashtags. The study found that these tweets received more likes and retweets as well.

More than 85 per cent of the tweets posted about the Covid crisis in India from Pakistan were supportive, the research found.

“Our research showed that there’s a universality in how people express emotions. If you search randomly, you’ll find positive tweets a little over 44 per cent of the time. Our method throws up positive tweets 83 per cent of the time,” KhudaBukhsh said.

At a time when Indians were panicked about the raging Covid-19 wave, they received support and solidarity from across the border. Some people justified Pakistan’s helpful outpouring as the country itself was also faced with an infectious outbreak.

“The situation here was pretty bad too. Our hope was getting thinner and thinner. Our enemy was the same, our borders are so close and we get impacted by whatever happens,” said Prof Arifa Zehra, who teaches history in Lahore.

“A pandemic doesn’t recognise borders, whether they are geographical or ideological. And when the dark cloud is sneering at you, there’s no harm in sharing a prayer.”

Prof Zehra also termed these positive tweets as “the greatest reassurance that we are still human”.

KhudaBukhsh expressed hope for better relations between communities and countries if this method of identifying and amplifying positive messages is employed. “When a country is going through a national health crisis like a pandemic, words of hope can be a welcome medicine and the last thing you want to see is negativity,” he highlighted.

“There are several studies that show that if you’re exposed to too much hate speech or negative content, you get influenced by it.”

KhudaBukhsh suggested using this AI-driven method to curb hate speech. “When there’s a negative situation, such as in times of war or a health crisis, instead of blocking the content, an alternative approach can be to highlight the positive content,” he underscored.

“It will help reinforce the belief that people on the other side of the aisle are kinder.”

KhudaBukhsh also suggested building up a robust system that highlights kindness in others before an opposite system is deployed that may censor empathetic content.