Just had a bitter break-up? Scramble to protect your accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. According to Sabbah Haji, an avid writer and director of Haji Public School, there are many whose private information on social networking sites has been misused by spiteful exes.
This was just one of the many horror stories discussed at a session on the second day of the Social Media Mela at which Haji and fellow panellists attempted to shed light on the dark side of the internet.
The virtual realm of Pakistan was projected as the digital equivalent of the Hobbesian state of nature where lawlessness reigns supreme and some teenagers are free to blackmail others or send rape threats to them. One of the panellists, Sana Saleem, who has given speeches to students of various educational institutions on cyber etiquette, said that most children feel it is ‘very cool’ to make fake Facebook profiles of their classmates and upload photos. “There are even children in the third grade who do this and they are simply unaware that this constitutes harassment,” she said.
Even schoolteachers are not spared. Panellist Nabiha Meher Shaikh, who introduced herself as a critical thinking teacher and part-time feminist, recounted how a bunch of students used social media to slander her. “They made a page on Orkut where they promoted me as a sex worker and put up my phone number and home address on it. I had to quit my job at the school, since the administration just wasn’t willing to take action,” she said, adding that she knows at least one other teacher at the school who had a similar experience.
Shaikh did acknowledge that it was difficult to curtail and control cyber-bullies, since teenagers often feel that asking them for their passwords is unfair and inevitably bring up the argument of free speech. But this hasn’t stopped schools from stepping up. The Karachi Grammar School reportedly browsed through students’ email accounts and pages on social networking sites. “The administration of the school demanded the passwords of a couple of students, who were eventually suspended for their misdeeds,” said Shaikh.
The session ended with the panellists agreeing that parents must play a proactive role in curbing bullies. They also agreed that they should closely monitor their childrens’ activities online.
It’s a jungle out there
Sabeen Mahmud, the organiser of the conference and director of PeaceNiche, who moderated the discussion, stressed the need for legislation to protect people who find themselves in trouble. She felt that the government’s e-crime bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance, only augments victims’ miseries. Fellow panellist Jehan Ara, whose organisation P@SHA has made an effort to work with the government on the ordinance, said that the civil society, lawyers and businessmen all protested when the bill was being passed since it had many loopholes. “For instance, the language of the bill is all wrong. Terms such as ‘spamming’ and ‘cyber-stalking’ were all defined very differently from how they are defined in any legislation abroad,” she said. After the protest, the mainstream media picked up the issue and the government finally started paying attention. “The prime minister proposed that the issue should be taken to a committee, but three years have elapsed and now the government is trying to push another bill.”
But there is help for people who have been bullied in the virtual world. Ara said that P@SHA was once approached by the family of a person whose account on a social networking site had been hacked. The culprit used Photoshop to defile the pictures that the victim had uploaded. “Our IT experts helped the family out of the situation step-by-step,” she said. Ara added that there should be support communities which victims can approach for support.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2012.