The first helpline set up for victims of cyber harassment in the country reminds us that the risks presented to users over the internet are growing by the day. The Lahore-based Digital Rights Foundation has stated it received 537 individual complaints over its helpline since it was set up on Dec 1, 2016. Sixty-two percent of the calls were from women, over 40 percent of them based in Punjab. However, some 23 percent of the callers did not state their geographic location. It also seems that a significant portion of men too faced some form of cyber harassment. The problem, according to DRF, is a growing one and essentially revolves around hacking into accounts, identity theft, the posting of falsified messages, circulation of pictures and in some cases attempts to blackmail using social media. Facebook was the forum on which the maximum amount of harassment was reported. Judging on the complaints received during the first four months since the helpline was set up, DRF believes the problem is widespread and that complaints will increase as awareness increases. So far, the helpline attempts to offer victims technical help as well as psychological support.
We all know that cyber bullying, harassment, stalking and other kinds of crime are a common phenomenon in many countries. There is every reason to believe that the same kind of harassment would exist in our country, especially since social media allows anonymity and the posting of material without identification of the poster who can very easily use a false identity. Schools in Lahore and other cities have been issuing warnings against cyber bullying or cyber harassment. This is a problem about which greater knowledge needs to be created. The growing number of users on Facebook and other forums are often unaware of the risks of placing information or photographs out in the public domain. Users of all ages and also parents of minors need to be made aware of potential risks and how to deal with them. We have already had in our country at least one reported case of kidnapping that has used social media for the crime. There may be others as well. The helpline is a small but important step towards recognising the problem and attempting to help victims. Many other similar initiatives are required.