Archives for February 2017

February 20, 2017 - Comments Off on F is for Fake News!

F is for Fake News!

During the US Presidential elections, it was claimed that fake news on Facebook may have contributed to Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. Even though the claim was denied and called ‘crazy’ by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, there’s a great chance that it is correct to some extent, if not entirely. According to a survey conducted in 26 countries including US and UK, 51% people who have access to the internet use social media as their primary source of information and particularly news - Facebook being the most prominent source. With the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria incident where a man open fired at the restaurant to what he said ‘self-investigation’ for pedophilia claims against the owner of the pizzeria, it’s pretty much evident that fake news does influence people and makes them act as they perceive it.

While it’s not the only case where supposed fake news goes viral, there have been quite a lot of hoax news and stories throughout the last two years that the word ‘post-truth’ (an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals) made it to Oxford Dictionaries in 2016, even though the word was first used in 1992.

Pakistan has not been left out of the whole ‘fake news’ trend. Back in 2013, Mubashir Luqman - a national TV host - on his live TV show ‘Khara Sach’ alleged that Lahore Grammar School (LGS), a private and leading school in Punjab, was converting its students to other religions and had supposedly excluded the subject “Islamiat” from the curriculum. In response to these allegations on a national TV, the principal of the concerned branch of LGS was forced to release a statement on the school’s official Facebook page where she stated,

Our institution believes in inculcating values such as tolerance and empathy in all our students. ‘Comparative religion’ is essentially a ‘history of religion’. It is NOT merely comparing religions; we aim to educate about Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism – and their fundamental teachings. Doing so, we believe, will enlighten our students about the importance of ‘peaceful coexistence.”

This was a glaring example of poor journalism without fact-checks or thorough investigation. Despite the school’s clarifications, the news went viral and several Facebook pages used it to attack progressive educational institutes. For instance, this Facebook page with over 100,000 followers, posted a now-deleted viral image that equated other religions with satanic beliefs.

Fake news has also resulted in diplomatic tensions escalating. In December 2016, the Defense Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Muhammad Asif threatened Israel of nuclear attack in reaction to the fake news he read on Twitter.

"Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH" — Khawaja M. Asif (@KhawajaMAsif) Dec. 23, 2016

Apparently, Asif was reacting to a fake story published by The article which was uploaded on December 20th wrongly attributed the statements to the Former Defense Minister of Israel, Moshe Yaalon.

@KhawajaMAsif The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said” — Ministry of Defense (@Israel_MOD) Dec. 24, 2016

@KhawajaMAsif reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false” — Ministry of Defense (@Israel_MOD) Dec. 24, 2016

Earlier in January 2017, five bloggers and activists went missing in Pakistan, in what is believed to be forced disappearances. While the reason of their kidnapping is still unknown, a smear campaign against the bloggers was launched by right wing groups, and their followers. One of the most influential scholars and live TV host Amir Liaquat Hussain joined into this irresponsible behaviour by accusing them of blasphemy. It’s important to note that in an Islamic state like Pakistan, blasphemy is a criminal offence and the punishment is either death or imprisonment for life.

Section 295 C of the Blasphemy Law states,

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Once those prominent and powerful in media endorsed the allegations, the public was quick to jump on the bandwagon and there was a widespread belief that the missing bloggers had committed blasphemy. The vicious campaign forced the families, who were already going through the trauma of losing their loved ones, to deny the allegations. The families were of the view that the blasphemy allegations were meant to divert the attention from their disappearance.

These accusations weren’t limited to just bloggers but were extended to human rights defenders too. Amir Liaquat Hussain alleged Muhammad Jibran Nasir, who is a frontline human rights activist, of profanity. The allegations, again, were made on a live TV show where thousands of people were watching (subsequently shared online as well) who believed what Hussain, who happens to be the scholar, said. These false proclamations of serious nature not only endanger the accused but also the ones related to them. As a result, Nasir who was in the forefront demanding immediate recovery of the missing bloggers filed a complaint of defamation against Hussain to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). The Authority, after the pressure of civil society and citizens who complainedc, banned Amir Liaquat Hussain’s show ‘Aisa Nahi Chalay Ga’ on BOL News.

On February 14, 2017, Hadiqa Kiani - an iconic singer of Pakistan - was accused of being arrested at the London Heathrow Airport for possessing cocaine worth 80,000 British Pounds. The singer immediately slammed the rumours by posting a photo with her son and mother on her twitter account,

“Photo taken TODAY in Lahore with my mother and son! Cannot believe how this FAKE London news has been spread” - Hadiqa Kiani (@Hadiqa_Kiani) - February 14, 2017

She also responded to one of the tweets directed to her to confirm the news with,

completely false. I dare anyone to associate drugs with my name. Don't believe me, contact U.K. authorities” - Hadiqa Kiani (@Hadiqa_Kiani) - February 14, 2017

Not only does misinformation spread via social media forums like Facebook and Twitter, but people also receive messages on WhatsApp and other messaging apps that can’t be verified by the average citizen, and hence there is a tendency to believe the said message. After the recent bomb blast in Lahore on February 13, 2017, security alerts started making rounds on WhatsApp claiming that the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) - the media wing of Pakistan Army - has declared security high alert in the major cities of Pakistan.

Another ‘notification’ attributed to ISPR, circulated via WhatsApp, asks the receiver to not respond to any call or SMS from a number mentioning either #90 or #09 as it could take their cellular network SIM card in their control and use it for malicious activities like bomb blasts.

Fake News 1

Now the worrying part here is that once attributed to the defense forces, people tend to believe the message and goes viral without any fact-checking and without verifying the source of information. Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) don’t disseminate sensitive and classified information in public and the security threats are usually dealt with on an official level. The news can be ‘leaked’ but the security breaches in the systems and communications of military forces aren’t very common. Here, it’s also important for the people to take informed decision to trust or ignore the news by pondering over a few simple questions, 1) Is the source reliable? 2)  Have you heard of this source before? 3) Can this news be verified by a more reliable source, say a reputed media outlet or journalist? 4) Is it humanly and technically possible for the classified information to make its way in the mainstream media and in public? 5) Are there any tags like ‘Satire’ or ‘Parody’ associated with the news?


According to a research study, fake news spreads more drastically than the stories that debunk them. Social media plays an important part in making or breaking the reputation of any person or organisation, and the consequences could sometimes be life-threatening. Poor journalism and spreading of rumours play a pivotal role in what is believed to be character assassination on the basis of personal biases.

Paid reviews and contributions by supposedly reputed media outlets or individuals add to the culture of fake news. A lot of times, these said individuals and outlets endorse a service or a product, or just a story in return of monetary advantages. These reviews are not harmful if the reader is informed about its sponsored nature but often times people tend to uncritically follow the advice of the endorser. This practice is very common particularly in tech industry and the beauty industry where a blogger posts reviews which are not necessarily honest.

As a nation and due to our enshrined differences, we tend to believe anything that’s been said under quotation marks and in bold attributed to a famous or historical person. Often times, it has been seen that anything attributed to a reputed organisation is taken as an absolute truth when in fact the reality could be otherwise. This doesn’t only affect a normal person or a group of people, but also harms the reputation of the organisation in question.

The websites or outlets that share fake news live off the revenue generated by the ads on their webpages. The most ridiculous or outrageous the story, the more it attracts people to the website, either to get more details and post even more outrageous comments under the fake news, or to satisfy their curiosity and bash the source later. Again, Facebook’s algorithm is the most crucial tool to promote the news by classifying it ‘most popular’. The more people click, share, comment, or react to the post, the more it’s shared with people and goes viral. Hence, more money for the owner of the content.

It’s essential that as agents of disseminating news, journalists, media outlets, and other individuals and organisations who are believed to be opinion-changers and influencers invest in responsible journalism and research what they share with the listeners and readers. Strong fact-checking mechanisms need to be developed before something becomes mainstream and goes viral.

Furthermore, it’s also important to engage with the government and non-governmental bodies, working on the well-being of the society and its people, to request - and if necessary, force - them to be more transparent in their actions. This is important for two reasons, a) because this way dissemination of fake news will be harder, and b) people will be able to fact-check themselves once the mechanisms are developed and advocated.

Remember: Everything you see or read isn’t true. There’s a chance it’s edited to satisfy someone’s personal biases. Always fact-check what you see. Additionally, here’s a list of pointers by wikipedia to identify good source and bad source on the internet. Interestingly, 10 points for Wikipedia to honestly classify itself as bad source.

Here’s how an informed decision can be taken to either believe or reject the news/claim, courtesy of - a real time rumour tracker.

Author: Hija Kamran

February 20, 2017 - Comments Off on Social Media & “Obscenity” in Pakistan

Social Media & “Obscenity” in Pakistan

Nasir Khan Jan is a social media celebrity and v-logger who rose to fame because of his off-key covers of songs and awkward photo shoots. However on 8th February, 2017 he was arrested by the KPK Police on charges of “obscenity”.

His home was raided, and he was humiliated in front of his family and neighbours. He was subjected to the fear and distress of finding himself suddenly labelled a criminal, and grappling with the threat of judicial proceedings. It was not until his bail was posted by the admin of another Facebook page that the ordeal ended, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, another nightmare awaited him as he returned home only to find someone had photographed him while he was handcuffed in police custody and the pictures had gone viral, leading to another barrage of derogatory and mocking attacks, adding to the psychological burden of this trauma. Nasir was further told by both the detaining authorities and commenters on social media that if he wishes to avoid a repeat of the same incident, he should stop making videos in which he does “immoral” activities such as “dancing” and singing.

But who decided what constitutes obscene and immoral? The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA)  gives authorities broad powers to remove content that is against “decency or morality” (refer to section 37 of the Act)  but what is the objective, legally-applicable definition of such subjective terms? It is unclear exactly which section was used to arrest Khan Jan, however section 294 of the Pakistan Penal Code could possibly have been used. Section 294 states that:

Obscene acts and songs: Whoever, to the annoyance of others, -- (a) does any obscene act in any public place, or (b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.”

How do we decide the limits of morality and immorality? Whose narratives of the same are imposed through the criminalisation of activities such as singing, dancing, and personal v-logging? Why are these types of content prompt punitive action while pages promoting hate speech, sectarianism, violence against women and various minorities, or increasing religious extremism are tolerated?

DRF is unequivocally against the actions taken by these law enforcement authorities supposedly at the behest of an as-yet unknown complainant and stands in support of Nasir Khan Jan as well as all digital citizens engaged in the creating content that empowers the growth of New Media. We see these actions as a clearcut part of an ongoing and disturbing pattern of criminalising, harassing, and silencing individual voices online.

Our stance is fourfold:

  • Nasir Khan Jan's arrest and subsequent events are a grievous act of cyberbullying crossing the boundary between “digital” and “physical” by permitting harassers to have their victim arrested, publicly humiliated online as well as offline, and threatened with court proceedings for posting videos that they personally found “immoral”. This sets a dangerous precedent for the extent and seriousness of cyberbullying and must not be allowed to slip by without resistance. All citizens are entitled to the same protections from the state; moral policing negates this right by making the state a stakeholder in upholding certain moral codes above others.

  • The contrast between Nasir Jan’s arrest and the impunity of pages belonging to banned terrorist outfits and violent sectarian groups highlights that this is a struggle for the right to public space that is ever shrinking and that must not ceded further.
  • The fact that Nasir’s privacy was further compromised and his leaked pictures continued to force him to relive this event even though he was granted bail, and even though his “alleged crime” was in the nebulous and legally ill-defined territory of “obscenity”, and despite the fact that in the eyes of the law we are all deemed innocent until proven guilty. This infers that the government of Pakistan is not adequately equipped to handle arrested suspects’ right to privacy while in police custody. It also points towards a lack of sufficient oversight on part of the state to ensure the responsible implementation of its own laws. This casts a shadow over its commitment to uphold the digital safety and rights of its citizens, ostensibly one of the primary reasons why the PECA was passed.
  • The members of the law enforcement authority that supposedly received this complaint also decided Nasir Khan Jan was guilty, and enacted punishment accordingly. This is a gross violation of human rights as well as digital rights. It cannot and must not be tolerated at any cost.

Nasir Khan Jan ’s arrest represents a violent escalation of threats to citizens’ post-PECA’ digital rights in an increasingly interconnected world. It raises deep issues of the breaking divide between “online” and “offline” and shows us clearly how non-normative personalities, presentations, and people are disproportionately at risk from not only online vigilantes but also organs of the state.

February 08, 2017 - Comments Off on Internet Freedom, Public Threats, and the Year Ahead

Internet Freedom, Public Threats, and the Year Ahead

January 2017 was one eventful month at Digital Rights Foundation. From protests for and return of the missing activists to hate speech by an acclaimed TV host on live television, from the launch of anti-harassment mobile application by Punjab Government to blocking of a satire website - DRF team has been busy at work throughout. And here's a round-up of all the activities that had our attention:

Missing Activists:

The month of January started out with the troublesome news that five activists had gone missing from Pakistan. Salman Haider (Islamabad), Ahmed Raza Naseer (Nankana), Ahmed Waqas Goraya (Lahore), Aasim Saeed (Lahore) and Samar Abbas (Karachi) all disappeared in the first month of the new year. The reason for their disappearance is still unclear but it is likely that they were targeted on the basis of their online speech. Civil society activists conducted protests all across Pakistan in the wake of these disappearances, and international pressure was also mounted on the government. Digital Rights Foundation also took part in the protest in Lahore.

IMG-20170112-WA0030 (1)By the end of January, reports surfaced that the missing activists had made contact with their families. There are several unanswered questions regarding the disappearances and many of the returned are reluctant to speak out about their ordeal. One of the activists had left the country following his release.

Another worrying aspect of these disappearances were the concerted social media campaigns to malign these missing activists, one that was backed up by the mainstream media and presenters, such as Amir Liaquat.

Amir Liaquat, Free Speech and PEMRA

Amir Liaquat is the host of the program “Aisa Nahi Chalay Ga” on Bol TV. In the month of January, has been accusing several activists and journalists of anti-Pakistani activities as well as levelling blasphemy charges against progressive voices.

After thousands of complaints from citizens, PEMRA (the regulatory agency for electronic media), issued an order banned Amir Liaquat’s appearance any TV channel:

PEMRA's Order to BOL TV

PEMRA's Order to BOL TV

Bol TV however did not immediately comply with PEMRA’s order and continued to air Amir Liaquat’s show despite the hate speech and incendiary content of his speeches.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has come down hard on Bol and the channel signed an undertaking pledging not to air Amir Liaquat’s show until further notice by the court.

Khabristan Times Blocked in Pakistan


Pakistan’s satire publication, Khabaristan Times (KT) has been blocked in Pakistan since January 25.

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemned the ban in its official statement and stands in solidarity with the publication.


Statement by KT

Statement by KT

Initiatives by the Punjab Government

16684669_1189689211129997_672714307_nThe Punjab government launched its Women Safety Smart Phone Application. The app was launched on January 4, 2017 by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) in collaboration with the Punjab Commission on Status of Women. This application allows allows users to send notifications to the Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) if there is an incident of harassment and security forces will be dispatched to the location immediately. The application also allows users to mark places and locations as “unsafe”, which will help authorities in planning activities and other users as well.

Digital Rights Foundation attended the launch event for the application. We shall follow up with the developers and the authorities regarding our problems with permissions and privacy policies of the application. The fact that the application gains access to a lot of personal data as displayed in the permissions section, the onus is on the authorities to assure citizens about why the data is collected and how it is securely stored.
WhatsApp Image 2017-02-08 at 13.03.23 (1)WhatsApp Image 2017-02-08 at 13.03.23

The Punjab government also launched around 192 hotspots in three big cities of the province, including Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan. According to reports, in order to log in citizens will be required to given their name, date of birth, profession and mobile number. Digital Rights Foundation is also concerned about the information that this required for this service and the monitoring of online activity with users are logged into the service.

Internet Shutdown persists in FATA

Digital Rights Foundation was recently alerted to the fact that internet services in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been suspended since June 12, 2016. This denial of internet access to a large segment of Pakistan’s population has gone unexplained by the authorities, and DRF will continue to highlight the issue until services are adequately restored.
You can read our blog post on the issue here.

Safer Internet Day

DRF organized a workshop on account of international Safer Internet Day on the 7th of February in Beaconhouse School System Boys Branch. Seerat Khan, Jannat Fazal and Huda Jilani conducted the workshop with the enthusiastic secondary school students, which was based on cyberbullying and the safety measures children should adopt while using the internet. During the workshop, children also designed posters and wrote about how they felt about cyberbullying. The need of these workshops in schools was recognized and a survey was also conducted to understand the nature of cyberbullying in schools. DRF hopes to expand the project to more schools in the near future.

English Works opening ceremony in Karachi

16142511_10154272452578870_7361294837987059840_nOn January 18, 2017, Hija Kamran - Communications Manager at Digital Rights Foundation, spoke to the students at English Works opening ceremony - a six month English learning course - organised by Evolution in partnership with the U.S. Consulate General Karachi. During her talk, Hija emphasized on the importance and need of Women Rights in Digital Spaces, Cyber Harassment, and how to counter the said harassment. Along with this, Hija also discussed the harassment that Qandeel Baloch faced, and the harassment that 22 year old Naila Rind faces for three months which ultimately led her to commit suicide in her hostel room.

Seminar by Search for Justice - CAN Pakistan

Huda Jilani, Program Assistant at Digital Rights Foundation, was a speaker and panelist at a seminar conducted by Search for Justice (an initiative by CAN Pakistan) and the Social Work Department at Lahore College University for Women on January 18, 2017. The seminar focused on Online Harassment specifically in context of social media and ways and strategies to avoid it. Mr. Shahid Hassan, a representative of the FIA, was also a speaker at the event.

Harassment as a Legal Concept in Cyber Law

Shmyla Khan, the Project Head of Cyber Harassment Helpline at Digital Rights Foundation writes,
"Harassment, unfortunately, is a fact of life for many women in spaces other than the place of work. Most public spaces are hostile environments for women. It is for this reason that street harassment is also criminalised under section 509 the PPC in Pakistan. It comes as no surprise that cyber spaces are no different when it comes to the experience of women and minorities. Out of the 3027 cybercrime cases reported to the FIA during August 2014- August 2015, 45% involved electronic violence against women (e-VAW)."

Read the full article "Harassment as a Legal Concept in Cyber Law" here.


February 02, 2017 - Comments Off on Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan

Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan


This is a pilot study that explores the gendered surveillance that female journalists experience.

The study details the experiences of seven female journalists and the surveillance that they face in the course of their work and beyond. The research focuses on the gendered forms and the different sources of surveillance, including the state, audience members and political groups. The female journalists interviewed for the study stated that not only were they surveilled by state authorities, but are also subjected to constant social surveillance in the form of abuse on social media - largely directed at their gender and appearance, rather than their work. In addition to mapping the forms of surveillance faced by female journalists, the report also explores the impact that this constant monitoring has, in terms of the psychological toll, self-censorship and retreat from digital spaces.

Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan