Bill Belsey, coiner of the term and founder of cyberbullying.org defines cyberbullying as, “involving the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others.” When the bullying extends to involving adults, it is termed as cyber harassment. Both terms are as old as the world wide web itself.
Although the WWW has been an immensely positive addition to the world, with the internet becoming more and more a virtual, parallel reality with each new day, the problems faced on it mirror those human beings have faced since Adam and Eve. We have numerous problems on the internet, yet we also share momentous moments with our communities on the internet. But it does not end there. We women have been treading this virtual public space just like we have been taught to walk our streets and shops; very, very carefully.
With access to internet being a proposed human right, there can be no control or regulation over who is able to access it, hence we have a
good sample of the general public in presence. The internet, however, adds another layer of freedom by granting anonymity. It has also given those with criminal intent a large and seemingly unsuspecting base of victims.
Cyber harassment takes many forms, it could be a nervous or underdeveloped individual cyberstalking a female college-mate or a neighbour, finding out her daily movements and locations resulting in stalking in real life as well. It could be a jilted lover making his lost love’s life miserable by impersonating her on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram when she is not allowed to be on these platforms
by her parents, or just posting random photos of her publicly while pretending to be her.
A man could dox a woman, which means to make private information public and calling for an attack on her, simply because she either challenged the man himself or one of the opinions he held. The same happened to model Qandeel Baloch whose private information was leaked soon after she posted consensual videos and photos of her with a religious cleric, which threatened the clerics reputation, resulting in media houses hounding Baloch. Baloch was murdered a few weeks later by her own brother.
Another trend women grow acquainted to is catfishing, which means to “lure someone into a relationship by means of an online persona”. This type of crime usually targets younger girls, with pedophiles making up the bulk of these personas, preying on little girls who have not yet sharpened enough to be suspicious. They may be pretending to be someone they know or a fictional individual.
Cyber harassment takes many forms, it could be a nervous or underdeveloped individual cyberstalking a female collegemate or a neighbour, finding out her daily movements and locations resulting in stalking in real life as well.
The most nefarious form of cyber harassment is revenge porn which is “revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject and in order to cause them distress or embarrassment”. Owing to our rigid social and cultural structures, this type of harassment would most likely result fatally.
Pakistan’s first free and dedicated helpline for victims of online harassment and violence, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), cites ‘non-consensual usage of information’ and ‘blackmailing’ to be the highest reported cases of cyber harassment cases they have dealt with, in their report for Dec ’16 – Nov ’18. Pakistan outlawed this practice three years ago with its Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.
The DRF cites hacking as the 3rd most reported case, a quick scan of private Facebook groups will show that many women are subjected to this practice by men they have refused advances from or previous partners. The hacking results in the men gaining access to a world of private conversations and photos, which are then used to blackmail the victims.
The 4th most reported case is ‘unsolicited contact’. Although this practice has become so common, that women have made a habit of brushing it aside on a regular basis. So much so that a local ride hailing company had to introduce the option of calling your designated Captain anonymously on its online app. This unwanted advance by men is so expected that women rarely even give their own number on any home delivery service unless we have no other choice and have made a habit of not attending calls from unknown numbers, lest the person at the other side finds out the number they’ve dialled does belong to a woman. Our phones are filled with calls and SMSs from unknown numbers.
Unsolicited contact does not stop at numbers, our social media accounts are also filled with literally hundreds of messages and friend/follow requests, this is such a rabid practice that it is common to share those sleazy and overtly sexual messages in jest. But we must not forget the intention of those men in our effort to find comic relief in this, these men have been raised with ideals of male ownership of female and entitlement to female presence. These same men would not want their female relatives to have access to the internet, these same men think all women they manage to see are an open game. It is not only tiring, but it is also very insulting.
So, we women brave the world wide web with all this being thrown in our face all the time. Within all of this, special attention must also be paid to parents, not only of the girls but of these men who make lives of our daughters just the more difficult no matter which world they step in.
It is understandable that there is no rule book to parent children with access to the internet since ours is the first generation to be faced with such an interface, but there must be no compromise on the parental promise of love and care. It is especially needed when daughters face all sorts of obstacles and hate from the outside world as well.
A 2018 UN report found the home to be the most unsafe place for a woman, parents must ask themselves why?
A lot of men get away with blackmailing women for years and manage to extort money because the victim knows she will have no home to go back to if the man comes forward, with sometimes something as small as loving text messages. Many women fall prey to coerced sex for years over “questionable” or even superimposed photos (these women are mostly not even allowed to post photos of themselves on the internet) or just men threatening to tell their fathers about their affair with them. A woman’s picture at a protest went viral, her first and foremost thought was not her physical safety but her parent’s reaction and how they would disown her. It should not be so.
Men are also not exempt from social and legal accountability, they are mainly responsible for how a society functions, whether real or virtual, owing to patriarchal power structures. Most men who have made the internet out to be a means of securing sexual gratification are young and belong to a generation of sons and to be the fathers of the next. We must question and call out their way of life, we must raise our sons to view females as not separate from them but different, we must raise our sons with ideals of kindness and com passion, we must not make them the hunters and our daughters the hunted, it is not at all needed. The government can only do so much, the first and fore most responsibility is that of parents.
Women must not be made subject to such violence and mental gymnastics for barely existing, those with criminal intent must be prosecuted and women must be left alone.
We have recently lost two up-andcoming young models to cyber bullying, friends of both stated social media as a huge factor in their deteriorated mental health, two wonderful ladies with a life full of promise. One of them was willing to risk the pain of throwing herself from a four-storey building rather than face the world we have built for ourselves.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has recently arrested two men from Peshawar for extortion and impersonation. One of them was in a secret nikkah and was threatening his own wife with leaking her photos, the other had multiple fake accounts of women on social media. Both were young with their lives ahead of them. I want the reader to question their sense of humanity and why they were willing to invest so much energy and time into this? We have lost these two men to a life of heinous crime, they are not deserving of sympathy but the women they have tortured and mentally traumatised for life, are.
A single write-up is not enough to highlight the compromises women make to be allowed to exist on the internet, from compromising on their artistic integrity to making multiple accounts (one for the family, one for friends, one public, one private), to having obscure genderless accounts, to choosing to forego the internet altogether. Women must not be made subject to such violence and mental gymnastics for barely existing, those with criminal intent must be prosecuted and we must be left alone. There is a dire need to make our daughters strong and our sons’ kind.