In today’s fame-centric world, where societal value is often gauged by one’s social media followers, Pakistan has risen as a prominent player boasting a staggering 72 million internet users. However, this expanding access to free social media platforms has raised substantial concerns regarding electronic security.
Pakistan stands as the fifth-largest mobile phone market in Asia, with internet regulation falling under the purview of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Data from these authorities underscores worrisome issues permeating our society, encompassing privacy breaches, disputes, political animosities, the dissemination of disinformation, and the targeting of religious and gender minorities.
The UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband And Gender delineates cyber violence against women, encapsulating hate speech, the dissemination of blasphemous content, hacking, interception of private communications, identity theft, online stalking (criminal harassment), and threats that can even induce a target to contemplate self-harm. It is imperative to acknowledge the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which recognizes online intimidation, threats, privacy violations, and identity theft against vulnerable groups, predominantly women.
In 2020, the FIA’s cybercrime wing received over 85,000 complaints, predominantly related to financial fraud, fabricated profiles, identity theft, defamation, hate speech, cyber harassment, threats, and cyber extortion. According to the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), they field over 146 monthly calls to their cyber harassment helpline, with 57% of the complaints originating from women and 30% from men. Punjab accounts for 57% of the reported cases, followed by Sindh with 15%.
The most disconcerting revelation in the DRF’s report is the age group between 21 and 25, with a significant portion of victims belonging to the youth demographic. The exponential surge in cyber harassment cases was noted with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the heightened accessibility of the internet.
Research Gate suggests that individuals subjected to social media trolling or cyberbullying are 1.9 times more likely to contemplate suicide. Nearly 90% of Pakistani university students surveyed reported experiencing cyberbullying, with individuals of higher socioeconomic status being more susceptible.
Cyberbullying in Pakistan
Cyberbullying transcends boundaries, affecting individuals across all age groups and backgrounds. Even prominent figures, including politicians, celebrities, and internet personalities, have not been immune to its pernicious effects. Notably, even the caretaker prime minister found himself targeted by online trolls, with the emigration of Pakistanis becoming a contentious topic in the cyber realm.
One tragic case involved Dr. Amir Liaquat, a renowned anchor, politician, and media personality, who tragically took his own life following the unauthorized release of explicit videos. E-security breaches have claimed lives in Pakistan, with misinformation being a significant contributor to the problem.
To establish a secure internet society, parental guidance, educator involvement, and law enforcement are imperative. Vigilantly monitoring teenagers’ online activities is pivotal to curbing cybercrimes and shielding them from online predators, identity theft, cyber intimidation, stalking, financial fraud, and more.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) addresses defamation, extending the right to file complaints to any member of the public, even if they are not directly defamed. PECA criminalizes the dissemination of false information that damages a person’s privacy or reputation when done intentionally and publicly.
Social media activist Shareef Ali Dawar shared his harrowing experiences of being threatened, bullied, and relentlessly trolled for expressing certain viewpoints. For many like him, deactivating their accounts and taking a mental break from social media has become a last resort to escape ceaseless political rivalry.
Under FIA’s Cybercrime Wing, a range of cyber offenses, including electronic financial fraud, cyber harassment, cyber defamation, cyberbullying, cyber extortion, hate speech, illegal SIM cards, child pornography, identity theft, cyber terrorism, and more, are treated with utmost seriousness.
Recognizing the rampant proliferation of cybercrimes, the Federal Investigation Agency has proposed amendments to PECA Laws. Over 2 billion PKR has been invested in revitalizing the cybercrime wing project, with 15 dedicated cyber police stations established across the nation. A helpline, 1991, has been designated for cyber-related complaints. Officials such as Dr. Ehsan Sadiq, Additional Director General of the Cybercrime Wing, and Dr. SanaUllah Abbasi, Director General of FIA, are tirelessly working to enhance electronic security for the nation.
As an educated and socially conscious society, it is our collective responsibility to uphold diverse opinions without resorting to personal attacks, both online and in our daily lives. A civilized society values diversity in thought, action, gender, and religion. With fortified PECA Laws and heightened awareness, Pakistan can embark on a journey toward a secure, protected, and inclusive social media environment.
Afsheen is a writer with an extensive experience in creating authentic and well-researched articles.