Facebook blackmail

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).

Acid violence: increasing?

An acid victim poses with a picture of her before the attack.I wrote a piece for this week’s New Statesman about the horrific crime of acid violence. The piece looks at recent incidents in the UK, and explains some background about the crime globally. Here’s the opening, and the cutting is below.

Naomi Oni had left work and was on her way home to Dagenham, east London, when acid was thrown in her face. The attack took place in 2012 when she was just 20 years old. Oni is still undergoing painful skin grafts to rebuild her face.

In an emotional interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on 24 March, Oni, now 22, spoke of her isolation. “I didn’t choose this,” she said. “I’m only human.” She labelled the Metropolitan Police as incompetent: they initially suggested she had thrown acid on herself. They later charged Mary Konye, a former friend of Oni’s, with the attack; she was found guilty in January and jailed for 12 years.

You can read the full piece here. It’s not the first time I’ve written on acid violence. Last year I spent time with survivors in Pakistan – one of the countries where it is most prevalent. You can read that article here.

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Sex and morality

Activists in India protest after three ministers in Karnataka were caught watching porn, February 2012.

Some links to last week’s scribblings. On Monday, I wrote about the Shafilea Ahmed case and whether it is time to reconsider the term “honour killings”. To an extent, it is a useful shorthand, but on the flipside, there could be something exonerating in the phrase: after all, murder is murder and there is no need for it to be a cultural issue. You can read the piece over at the New Statesman.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wrote (also for the New Statesman) about the porn industry in India and how the internet is bringing it into the mainstream. It also looks at how homegrown porn stars, a relatively new phenomenon for India, negotiate that shame culture and the dishonour that goes with being open about sexuality.

Elsewhere (and on a completely different note), I wrote a couple of blogs for Middle East Monitor. The first discussed the attack on border guards in Sinai and the effect that might have on Gaza. The other looked at how Riyadh and Tehran are vying for the loyalty of new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.