This is part of our series, “Tales from The Dark Side“, about the deepest, darkest, harshest realities of Pakistani society that should serve as lessons.
When the new cyber crimes bill was passed by the National Assembly a few months back, a plethora of criticism surfaced for its broad and vague lettering. Many people were critical of it because its vague wording continues to put the lives of innocent internet users in Pakistan, in danger. Unfortunately (or fortunately, because the law is so vague that literally any innocent person would not be allowed to voice their opinions on the internet), when it comes to its implementation, nothing significant has been done so far. However, cyber bullying is a phenomenon that exists, and goes largely unaddressed in Pakistan.
My interest in the topic began when last week I had to encounter a keyboard jihadi who sent me some immensely disturbing messages on Twitter
He shared his two cents on a write-up about how surveys concluded that most women percieve marital rape to be their fault. This incident led me to investigate further into the issue that has plagued Pakistan colossally; cyber-bullying.
Mariam Ehsan, a second year student at a university in Lahore, says she went through her worst nightmare in her first year at the university.
She was harassed for ignoring a random ‘Facebook friendshipper’.
“This random guy was messaging me on Facebook since a month and would always be like ‘hey I want to friendship with you’. I kept ignoring his messages and he kept asking me to talk to him. Then one day I get a message on Whatsapp from this random number saying ‘go check your Facebook’. When I checked, all my friends and pictures had been deleted and pictures of me and my ex were all over my wall with captions like “after sex”, the hacker got the pictures from my account that basically had the privacy settings as “only me” so no one else could see those but yes I admit it was stupid of me to not delete the album,” told Mariam, while talking to Mangobaaz.
“The pictures weren’t vulgar but in one I was kissing my ex on the cheek. My parents were on Facebook so the hacker blackmailed me to Skype with him otherwise he’ll inbox them to my parents and all my friends. My dad is like super conservative and I didn’t want him to see it, otherwise he’d kill me. I freaked out and was about to Skype with him when my roommate entered and stopped me.
She called the police to the university, I told them the story and also showed them evidence. The hacker also sent a voice recording in which he abused me and told me this wouldn’t have happened if I had spoken to him since day one and didn’t ignore his messages on messenger.
However, long story short, I got a complaint registered against him at FIA but as has been the norm, nothing happened because apparently I didn’t have any contacts and they wanted rishwat“.
According to Mariam, her harasser later harassed some of her friends as well.
Similarly, Mirra Bilal, a senior year student at LUMS had personal information leaked online by her harasser.
“I don’t like to talk about it much as it was one of the toughest phases of my LUMS life. Initially, my accounts got hacked but I recovered them. Then my fake accounts were created. The Facebook one had my hijaab-less pictures. The person knew exactly what would torture me.
Even worse, this person created my profile on a dating site exposing my phone number, home address and my pictures. This profile was extremely public. I found out about it when I got 47 calls in one night from men who use the site.
I was bombarded with the sickest messages and pictures on Whatsapp and text messages. This person managed to create fake email addresses using my name and they sent emails on university forums saying things like “hey add me on this website and become friends with me. Bla bla is my number and address and I love to party.” This was all to target my reputation and I had no idea why. I opened up to a very dear friend and after involving the college administration we found out it was someone from LUMS.
My life became torture. Every time I would see my bully from far, I would hide somewhere and break down. Then one day, I saw my bully on campus. I looked straight into his eyes and gave him the respect I gave to him when he was my teacher. He said Salaam to me and I very politely replied to the salaam, pulled off a really big smile and walked away. That very night, the new account on the dating website was deleted and ever since, nothing happened again. I acted as if I didn’t know that he was behind all of this, and I’m sure that guilt killed him. Ever since, nothing happened to me. I went back to my open social self and yes I did not change my number even though my block list has 158 numbers now. Shayed uss banday ko izzat di aur ussko sharam aa gayi.”
Fatima Ahmed had to endure cyber bullying at the hands of one of her family members because she refused to marry him.
“He would message me relentlessly, I blocked him from everywhere but he resorted to using his friends’ accounts to try and tease me. I was flabbergasted because the guy was adequately educated and belonged to a respectable family. I couldn’t really do anything since he was a family member. I had to suffer in silence.”
If you’re ever being harassed online, here’s what the law has in store for you
FIA National Response Centre’s representatives say that harassers usually choose weekends to engage in bullying. This is because the Centre is closed on weekends and people end up giving in to their harassers’ demands instead of lodging complaints. Unfortunately, the cell does not have any automatic services that can be provided over the weekend or at odd hours, at the moment.
Digital Rights Foundation, an advocacy NGO, led by Nighat Dad works specifically in order to help people, and women in specific, with being able to freely engage in online activity. The Foundation has recently launched a ‘Cyber Harassment Helpline’ where anyone facing online harassment or cyber bullying can call in for help.
Bullying is NOT okay, cyber or in-person. If there’s anyone who’s harassing you and preventing you from living life the way you choose, you need to speak up. Your family and friends are going to listen to. Don’t be afraid.
Note: Names of the victims of cyber bullying have been changed to protect their privacy.
For more of the deepest, darkest realities that plague our society check out ‘Tales From The Dark Side‘.
Cover Image Via: change.og