Tue, Jul 18, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Pakistani woman fights against cyberabuse

LOST IN TRANSLATION:A smear campaign against Pakistani university students was not found as a breach of Facebook standards because its monitors could not read Pashto

The Guardian

After the killing of Qandeel Baloch last summer, Nighat Dad reached breaking point.

Visiting colleges and universities across Pakistan, Dad had been building quite a reputation for herself and her work. She was spreading the word about the Digital Rights Foundation she established in 2012 to help Pakistani women deal with the new phenomenon of online harassment.

However, when Pakistani model Qandeel Baloch, a famous social media celebrity, was murdered by her brother, there was a spike in the number of young women in Pakistan who said they felt increasingly unsafe online and wanted to do something about it. More women began seeking out Dad to relate terrible stories of online harassment, revenge porn and men doctoring photographs of women in order to extort money from them.

She felt herself struggling under the weight of responsibility.

“I reached my limit, where I was like, ‘I don’t think that I can deal with this,’” she said. “It was impacting on my emotional health. The guilt I felt that if I’m not going to respond to this call or the message which I’m getting in the middle of the night, maybe this person will lose their life or maybe there is a fear of violence.”

Recognizing there was an urgent need, Dad expanded her operations and launched Pakistan’s first cyberharassment helpline.

Now, Dad and her team of 12 people — including a counselor — field up to 20 calls a day.

The cases range from women wanting advice on social media security settings to more serious problems.

“Every single day we are resolving these issues. There are issues of identity theft, blackmail; there are women filmed being raped and then blackmailed to prevent it going online,” Dad said. “Technology is ever changing, so violence in the online spaces has also increased. It has become doxing, sextortion and revenge porn. It’s massive.”

In 2015, more than 3,000 cybercrimes were reported to the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency. About 45 percent of the women targeted were using social media.

In May, Dad’s team commissioned a study that found 70 percent of women were afraid of posting their photographs online lest they should be misused; 40 percent had been stalked and harassed on messaging apps.

These figures are no surprise to Rabia Mehmood, a Pakistani technology journalist.

“Harassment is a significant issue for women with access to technology in Pakistan and has been so since the days of landlines,” she said. “Unfortunately, the transition to better connectivity, more user control of platforms and devices, has not eradicated the online abuse and violence for women — [it has] only made the issue much more stark.”

“In Pakistan, outspoken women have received rape and death threats, smear campaigns run against them and their contact information has been shared on social media. We have seen a transitioning of violence and harassment of women from the offline world to online spaces,” Mehmood said.

There is little help available.

“A trust deficit between the authorities and women exists in Pakistani society,” Mehmood said. “Women believe justice will not be served, there is fear of being shamed and judged, and finally, not knowing the right procedure of seeking help.”

In 2015, Dad was contacted by a group of young women studying at Edwardes College in Peshawar. Someone was posting their Facebook page photographs — alongside their names and phone numbers — saying they were prostitutes.

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