As the internet and technology becomes an increasingly important part of our lives and social media becomes a critical space for us to make our voices heard, they are also being used as new dimensions of violence against women. Cyber harassment and violence against women has emerged as a global problem with serious implications for society. Millions of women around the world are subjected to online harassment and deliberate violence yet the problem of online violence and harassment is often overlooked in discussions of violence against women.
While women are seeing some success in their fight for empowerment offline, cyber bullying is a crucial battle that has to be won as well. The misogyny and bigotry of men becomes more prominent when they are hiding behind a computer. Cyber harassment includes a variety of online actions: harassment, spreading rumors, impersonation, trickery or exclusion, cyber stalking, bullying, trolling, blackmailing, non-consensual pornography, threatening and the invasion of privacy. These activities are usually performed through text messages or using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Cyber violence against women is reaching to alarming proportions. Still it is accepted as a routine part of our daily lives and is shrugged off because the harassment did not occur in the ‘real’ world. In truth, harassment both online and offline can lead to psychological intimidation and emotional distress. Cultural norms and the idea of “honor” may be a reason for victims not to speak about it. Pakistani women usually don’t have much of a choice. If they reply, they’re feeding the trolls. If they ignore, the bullies won’t stop and the society won’t appreciate them taking the matter to courts and cops. They usually find themselves stonewalled by community attitudes. They have to face difficult procedures when it comes to reporting such issues.
This attitude needs to shift. We must focus on the perpetrators of these crimes instead of putting the onus on the victim. Usually when a woman complains of cyber stalking she’s asked to quit, to shut down her social media accounts or to make them private but that’s not the solution. Most importantly, for women who are prolific bloggers, tweeps, instagrammars, facebook users and have a strong online following, shouldn’t go offline. Asking a woman to quit social media just because a bully has got access to internet is the most horrible thing to say. Not only because by saying so you are penalizing the victim but also because you’re asking for leaving the internet to cyber criminals and bullies. It’s not the women who need to quit, it’s the perpetrators who need to change their actions.
Law has failed to keep up with technology. The gaps are getting wider as technology advances ever more rapidly. Some abusive tactics are not illegal even when they violate a social media platform’s guideline. Others are legal even when they’re allowed by a social media platform. Law can’t fix these problems but a cultural change can. Beginning in the early childhood, social mores are in desperate need of reform. A moral collapse is destroying the foundations of our society. It’s a social problem and it needs a social response.
It must be acknowledged how online abuse can affect people and protocols must be developed to help the victims and prevent the online abuse. We have to expand freedom of expression and ensure fair public engagement. And to do so a fundamental shift is required in how we think about free speech, gender, mutual respect, moral values, self-respect and ‘honor’.