In the absence of alternatives, FATA's residents turn to each other, relying on the breadth of their social networks to secure the information
they need to navigate an environment of ongoing existential threats and longstanding underdevelopment.
This communal nature of information-gathering can be limiting. Information passed from person to person introduces error and bias, keeping residents even
further from reliable sources. But the premium placed on finding eyewitness accounts and credible media is also empowering a subtle shift in the social
fabric of FATA.
Traditionally influential sources of information, such as tribal elders and religious leaders, are increasingly unable to answer for their communities'
most pressing challenges -- militant activity, drone strikes, and persistent poverty. In some cases, they are even distrusted. Many feel the rise of
mullahs in politics over the last 15 years has undermined their authority as trusted spiritual leaders, making them one less source of credible information
and one more source of possible misinformation.
Abdul, a researcher in North Waziristan, claims, "[P]eople have realized that they are being used by the mullahs and other religious leaders... People have
become mature now and they know that they have been used in the name of Islam."
Disappointment with traditional leaders is, however, matched with a rise in the social status of those with access to information from a variety of
Barbers, for example, are seen as well-informed about local news because they converse with a wide range of people daily. Despite the mobility constraints
in many parts of the region, all men -- rich and poor, educated and uneducated -- still go to the barbershop. Sultan, a barber in Khyber, thinks of himself
as "a computer where people feed and receive information."
Similarly, diaspora populations are increasingly important providers of information to FATA's residents. Living outside of the region, migrants often learn
about local events before their families and call home when they do. In the past, when his phone rang at 4 a.m., Atif from Orakzai would think, "What has
happened to someone that I love?" Now he worries, "What might be happening to me?"
As technology increasingly -- albeit slowly -- penetrates the region and opens new channels for information access, the influence of the literate and
technology-savvy is also growing among FATA's communities. Young people, especially those with higher education, are the strongest example of a demographic
becoming the "eyes and ears" of their communities as a result.
In decades past, "youth were not allowed to sit on chairs or charpoys [traditional bed] in front of the elders even," explains Subidah, a teacher in
neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, "but now the technology is changing this whole social