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May 22, 2019

Online blackmail

Editorial

 
May 22, 2019

The edited picture of a young girl was sent to her fiancé, and ended up in her engagement being called off. The girl then committed suicide by consuming poison due to the blackmail she had faced over social media. The family of the deceased woman said they had found a letter which stated she was being blackmailed by a boy and his friends, over a bunch of edited pictures. The group had already received Rs50,000 from the girl and we can assume she was unable to pay more. This is a tragedy – and, alarmingly, it’s not that rare. Photoshopped or otherwise altered photographs are used over social media to pressurise, harass or victimise people, especially women. According to a report by the Digital Rights Foundation released in May 2017, 40 percent of women in Pakistan face harassment over the internet. There are currently 40 million Facebook users in the country. Women have reported being made the subject of misogynist or pornographic messaging increasingly commonly. Girls as young as 12 are at risk. The incident in Badin indicates how grave the repercussions from such actions can be. For many, it has simply become a tool to be used to blackmail or abuse female victims.

The manner in which society has been shaped by social media also means there is more scope for harassment and blackmail. A report in a leading US newspaper, based on interviews with 500 women aged between 12 and 18 years, finds that two-thirds of them had been asked for nude pictures by male members online. Such photographs are frequently used to target women in various ways. The risks in Pakistan are even graver given social norms. Even the insinuation of wrongdoing or any action that can be termed ‘immoral’ behaviour can lead to serious consequences for a woman, both from her own family and others. The pressures the woman in Badin found herself under were obviously too great to tolerate. She chose to end her own life, obviously finding no other solution available to her. With online crime of all kinds growing, it is essential we find methods to track down those responsible for such actions, and to crack down against individuals abusing women or using cyberspace to demean them in any way. Such crime is on the rise and we cannot be sure that it has not already claimed other lives in cases that may not always be reported.

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