Youth at risk: cyberbullying epidemic grips Pakistan

ISLAMABAD-In today’s fame-driven world, where one’s worth is often measured by their social media followers, Pakistan has emerged as a prominent player with over 72 million internet users. However, this growing access to free social media platforms has brought about significant concerns regarding e-security.
Pakistan ranks as the 5th largest mobile phone market in Asia. Internet regulation falls under the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Data from these authorities highlights alarming issues within our society, ranging from privacy breaches and disagreements to political rivalries, disinformation, and the targeting of religious and gender minorities.
The UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband And Gender defines cyber violence against women, encompassing hate speech, publishing blasphemous content, hacking, intercepting private communications, identity theft, online stalking (criminal harassment), and uttering threats, which can even lead to convincing a target to end their own life. It is crucial to acknowledge the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which recognizes online intimidation, threats, privacy breaches, and identity theft against vulnerable groups, primarily women.
In 2020, the FIA’s cybercrime wing received over 85,000 complaints, primarily concerning financial fraud, fake profiles, identity theft, defamation, hate speech, cyber harassment threats, and cyber blackmail. According to the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), they report over 146 monthly calls to their cyber harassment helpline, with 57% of the complaints coming from women and 30% from men. Punjab accounts for 57% of the reported cases, followed by Sindh with 15%.
The most concerning aspect of the DRF’s report is the age group between 21 and 25, with the majority of victims falling in the youth sector. The exponential spike in cyber harassment cases was noted with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and increased internet accessibility.
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 higher socioeconomic status individuals being more susceptible. Cyberbullying knows no boundaries and affects individuals across all age groups and backgrounds. Even prominent figures, including politicians, celebrities, and internet personalities, have not been immune to its harmful impact. Notably, even the caretaker prime minister found himself targeted by online trolls, with increased Pakistani emigration becoming a contentious topic in the cyber world. One tragic case involved Dr. Amir Liaquat, a renowned anchor, politician, and media personality, who took his own life following the leak of explicit videos. 

E-security breaches have taken lives in Pakistan, with misinformation being a significant contributor to the problem.
To establish a secure internet society, parental guidance, teacher involvement, and law enforcement are essential. Monitoring teenagers’ online activities is crucial to reduce cybercrimes and protect them from online abusers, 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 false information that harms a person’s privacy or reputation when intentionally and publicly displayed.
Social media activist Shareef Ali Dawar shared his traumatic experiences of being threatened, bullied, and relentlessly trolled for expressing certain opinions. For many like him, deactivation and taking a mental break from social media have become the last resort to escape ceaseless political rivalry.
Under FIA’s Cybercrime Wing, various cyber offenses, including electronic financial fraud, cyber harassment, cyber defamation, cyberbullying, cyber blackmailing, hate speech, illegal SIM cards, child pornography, identity theft, cyber terrorism, and more, are treated with seriousness.
Recognizing the rampant spread of cybercrimes, the Federal Investigation Agency has proposed amendments to PECA Laws. Over 2 billion PKR has been invested in revamping the cybercrime wing project, with 15 dedicated cyber police stations established across the country. A helpline, 1991, has been designated for cyber complaints. Officials like Dr. Ehsan Sadiq, Additional Director General of the Cybercrime Wing, and Dr. SanaUllah Abbasi, Director General of FIA, are tirelessly working to enhance e-security for the nation.
As an educated and socially aware society, it is our responsibility to respect differing opinions without resorting to personal attacks online or in our daily lives. A civilized society upholds diversity of thought, action, gender, and religion. With strengthened PECA Laws and increased awareness, Pakistan can embark on a journey toward a secure, protected, and inclusive social media environment.

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