Facebook blackmail

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Nighat Dad, founder of Digital Rights Foundation

Gender-based harassment can look extremely different in different parts of the world, posing a conundrum for global social media companies: what might look like a totally mundane image to a western viewer could be scandalous in a more conservative context, if it reveals evidence of a pre-marital relationship.

I explored the issue of social media harassment and blackmail in Pakistan in a story for Elle magazine.

When we hear the words ‘revenge porn’, we typically think of sexually explicit images, but in a context like Pakistan, even non-explicit images can have a devastating impact. A 2017 study found that 70% of Pakistani women were afraid of posting or sharing photographs of themselves online in case the pictures were misused.

First, Asad messaged Fatima’s sister on Facebook, trying to coerce Fatima into resuming contact. Then he threatened Fatima, telling her he would share the photographs he had of them together. He carried through, contacting her father and her brother via Facebook and WhatsApp.

The reporting for this story was supported by a media fellowship with Columbia University’s Centre for the Study of Social Difference. The programme, titled Religion and the Global Reframing of Gender Violence, aims to question dominant narratives about gender based violence, with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. I was also a media fellow on the programme last year (you can see some of the reporting I did here).

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