Archives for December 2020

December 21, 2020 - Comments Off on November 2020 Newsletter: DRF marks the 16 days of activism on violence against women

November 2020 Newsletter: DRF marks the 16 days of activism on violence against women

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

Digital 50.50 Gender and Privacy

The fourth edition of the Digital 50.50 was launched in November which focused on gender and privacy in digital spaces. The edition covered different aspects on the intersection of gender and privacy in the digital spaces, including privacy of journalists online, how women are constantly watched and how it impacts their behaviour in online spaces, how discussion have shifted from national security to morality and the spate in banning of apps and content under this pretext. The magazine can be accessed here


#Orangetheworld #16days

#16DaysOfActivism is an annual, international campaign against gender based violence. This campaign is spearheaded by the UN. This year’s theme revolved about online gender based violence, and DRF’s campaign highlighted the disturbing trend towards online violence in Pakistan, and has also laid out interventions, and solutions to this problem.

Maru Website and DRF collaboration on 16days

Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online

Launch of second edition of ezine “Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online” on November 6th. In this edition the contributors looked at the internet and its role in movements from a critical lens in order to help develop possible futures of women and gender minorities on the internet. The launch was marked with a webinar with all the contributors on Facebook Live that can be accessed here.

The ezine can be assessed here.

#PrivacyIsARight #BeCyberSmart

As part of Digital Safety month, the DRF team developed the ABCs of Cyber Security that was shared during this entire month. The aim was to spread general awareness about digital safety issues as well as how to keep oneself safe from these common threats, and what to do if and when you become a target.

#UnmaskTheTruth #StopSilencingJournalists #stopviolenceagainstwomen

On November 2, to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity Against Journalists, Digital Rights Foundation conducted an online campaign. On the day, at 3 pm, DRF team observed silence for a minute to pay tribute to all the journalists who were killed for reporting the news and bringing accurate information to the masses. Impunity leads to more killings and is a breakdown of law and the judicial system. The campaign material was uploaded with the hashtags #TruthNeverDies, #EndImpunity, #SahafatJurmNahe (Journalism is not a crime). We also reiterated and reminded everyone that we have not forgotten Shaheena's brutal murder. It was a grim reminder that women journalists face innumerable barriers and threats on the basis of their gender. On #EndImpunity Day for crimes against journalists, the NWJDR shared their statement again to reiterate the demands.

#SahafatAurSachayi by FPU and FNF

DRF, Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and Freedom Press Unlimited (FPU) launched a mini web series on the infodemic in times of COVID19. The #SahafatAurSachayi series focused on different aspects of fake news in times of the pandemic and what must we do in order to counter misinformation and disinformation online.


DRF has launched the #ActivismInPandemic campaign highlighting the important work of human rights defenders and journalists have been doing during COVID19. The campaign aims to share experiences of journalists and HRDs during the pandemic and also highlight the importance of managing work and stress during these testing times.

Policy Initiatives

Legal Analysis - Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020:

Digital Rights Foundation is gravely concerned by the the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020:

DRF published it’s policy brief on the ‘Impact and Legality of Surveillance’:

This policy brief, prepared by the Digital Rights Foundation, discusses the issue of the constitutionality and social impact of surveillance, particularly from a human rights perspective, and its impact on democratic freedoms.

Gender-based violence cases in Pakistan

As part of a study by the Digital Rights Foundation, a mapping exercise of gender-based violence cases since the Motorway Incident has revealed that in 64 days 123 cases of rape and gang rape have been reported across Pakistan.

Addressing Online Attacks on Women Journalists in Pakistan

This policy brief aims to discuss the increased incidence of online violence and targeted harassment against female journalists, and its implications on freedom of speech and dissent.

Punjab Police Women Safety App

In a policy brief examining the Punjab Police Women Safety App, as an organization working on tech and gender for a number of years, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) sees the approach and the application both as wholly inadequate for tackling the issue of gender-based violence in the country.

250 recommendations on how to stop infodemics

In collaboration with the Forum on Information and Democracy, and based on more than 100 contributions from international experts, the Digital Rights Foundation offered 250 recommendations on how to rein in a phenomenon that threatens democracies and human rights, including the right to health.

Cyber Harassment Helpline October Statistics

Cyber Harassment Helpline received 235 complaints in the month of October. It shows the trend of online violence especially blackmailing through non consensual use of information and images has sustained. Another observed trend is of social engineering through which people are coerced into sharing their personal details like National Identity Card number, WhatsApp code, bank account details and, e-wallet details making them susceptible to hacking and financial fraud. Majority of the complainants were females (68%) belonging to Punjab (Lahore) and other cities without the FIA cybercrime office.

Media Coverage

Wired Article

In an article for ‘Wired UK’, Nighat Dad discusses the state of Internet Freedom in 2020 and beyond, stating that “In 2021 we will have to acknowledge that the internet is not the free space it was originally envisaged to be".

New Cyber Laws in Pakistan- What’s the buzz with Kiran Butt’ on Capital TV

In an exclusive interview with Capital TV, on “What’s the Buzz” with Kiran Butt, Nighat Dad discusses the impact of the new online harm rules and social media regulations on content creators, journalists and influencers.

IFEX Article

In an article for IFEX, Nighat Dad discusses the origins of the Digital Rights Foundation, and her pursuit in establishing safer online spaces for women.

Events and Sessions

UNESCO event on End Impunity Against Journalists in Islamabad

In a collaborative event for UNESCO Islamabad and the Swedish Embassy in Pakistan, marking the ‘End Impunity Day’ for Crimes and Journalists, Nighat Dad advocated for the protection of the Freedom of Speech and Media Freedom for journalists, in both online and offline spaces.

Changing the Face of Politics Podcast

In an interview with Mimoza Kusari-Lila, member of the Kosovo Parliament, for the ‘Changing the Face of Politics Podcast, Nighat Dad discusses the parliamentarian’s journey to political office, and the obstacles she faced on her journey.

Digital Rights Popup Forum

An estimated billion users are coming online for the first time. Yet little is understood about this market, which faces acute privacy, security and access challenges that threaten their ability to equitably connect. In a panel discussion for Internetdagarna Digital Rights Popup Forum, Nighat Dad discusses the “State of Internet Freedom Around the World: Protecting the Next Billion and the Global Soul”.

Launch webinar: “Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online”

DRF conducted a live webinar with some of the contributors of its ezine, Ajwah Nadeem, Sarah Shamim and Umaima Ahmed on Facebook that can be accessed here.

In a panel discussion for Hafiza Merkesi (the Truth Justice Memory Center), Nighat Dad discussed internet freedom and the incidence of cyber harassment against women in online spaces.

Broken Rules? Pakistan’s Online Regulations

In a policy roundtable for Tabadlab, Nighat Dad discusses the state of Pakistan’s online regulations and its potential policy implications.

Rapid Fire Chat Series

Rapid Fire on it’s an infodemic

Arslan Ather along with Laiba and Manal Khan, we discussed the prevalence of misinformation during the pandemic and otherwise too. Our panelists gave great and witty answers to our rapid-fire questions, while also giving us some important insight into how journalists have been working with this ‘infodemic’.

Rapid Fire Chat on #InternationalMensDay

DRF conducted its series of Rapid Fire Chats with digital rights activist Hija Kamran and journalist Fatima Razzaq to talk about masculinity in the digital spaces. The chat can be accessed here.

Gender-based harassment of women journalists 

DRF conducted another one of its Rapid Fire Chats on the 25th of November this year and in honouring the day, which is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, conducted a chat on the same theme with our participants. We were joined by two women who have done commendable work in the field of journalism: Amber Shamsi and Ramsha Jahangir.

The conversation revolved around cyber harassment, it's impact and how these spaces can be navigated and also made safer, especially for women who use them as platforms for their work. The conversation is available on DRF's Facebook page where it was cast live on the date mentioned above..

Achieving Cyberpeace: A Collective Effort in Cyberspace and Beyond | November 30

DRF took part in a panel hosted by the Cyberpeace Institute for its first annual meeting. The panel titled "Achieving CyberPeace: a Collective Effort in Cyberspace and Beyond" will discuss ideas and initiatives to achieve peace in the digital world. The panel was also attended by Sheetal Kumar from Global Partners Digital,  Nicola Staub from Cybera Global, and Kanwaljit Singh from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Find more details here.

Digital Literacy Drive session

DRF conducted its third Digital Literacy Drive session with the students of the Forman Christian College (FCC), Lahore. The session was held on Wednesday the 25th of November, 2020 and was organized with the kind help of Ms. Mehwish Batool.

The topics touched upon included the concept of privacy, the legal state of the right to privacy as well as cyber harassment, gender and privacy. The session was concluded with a section on online safety conducted by our trainers.

Meeting with Canadian High Commissioner
Panel on How do we make our parents understand the internet? How do we reach out to them when we need help?

DRF with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation held a Facebook live session with our 4 youth ambassadors on ‘How do we make our parents understand the internet? How do we reach out to them when we need help’. The session focused on the need to talk to parents more and also make them understand the importance of the internet.

Data Localisation: All you need to know

DRF organized a session on the topic of data localisation in the month of November, given the recent developments in e-governance rules and laws in Pakistan and the overall status quo we felt it was the need of the hour. The excellent panelists who joined us for this session included Shmyla Khan and Arslan Athar of DRF and Alexandrine Corbion from Privacy International. The conversation revolved around the examination of what data localisation is, what it's impact has been so far in the countries where it is practiced and what we can expect from it's implementation in Pakistan. The session is available to be viewed on DRF's Facebook page where it's as cast live.

Digital Rights and Laws in Pakistan

This workshop was conducted by our Director of Legal Affairs and covered the legal landscape in Pakistan in terms of digital rights pertaining to freedom of expression, right to information and right to privacy in online spaces. Furthermore, the workshop also focused on the laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 in Pakistan and how they impact digital freedoms.

Two Day Residency Training with HRDs and Journalists

DRF held a two day residency training with HRDs and journalists on online safety and digital rights laws in the country. The training was particularly designed keeping in mind the needs of the participants in the training.

Impact Talk Digital Security, Privacy Rights and Fake News Pakistan Perspective

DRF participated in the #ImpactTalk titled ‘Digital Security, Privacy Rights and Fake News’ and DRF’s team participated in it on 13th November. The talk was organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

COVID19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms.

You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse.

IWF Portal

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto.



December 1, 2020 - Comments Off on Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Author: Mehwish Batool 

Mehwish Batool is an academician and researcher currently working at Forman Christian College - A Chartered University

She tweets @Mehwish_Bat00l

Supported by:


Starting December 2019, humankind has witnessed the spread of two deadly viruses. The first one being Covid-19 – a pandemic that has claimed over 1.25 million deaths till now. The second one was a disinfodemic. The damage that the disinfodemic has done is yet to be determined in terms of its scale (many researches are underway), but it has proved no less dangerous than the novel coronavirus.

In this report, we are analyzing Pakistan’s response to Covid-19 related fake news and what can be done to contain the spread of this era of disinfodemic in the wake of the second wave.

What is Disinfodemic?

The term “Disinfodemic” is a combination of two words “disinformation” and “pandemic.” UNESCO coined this term to refer to the wide spread of false information related to the coronavirus. This is a global issue and there is hardly any region of the world that has not been hit by a misinformation or disinformation campaigns around Covid-19. 


The Outbreak of Disinfodemic

The first case of coronavirus in Pakistan was reported on February 26, 2020. But fake news about the virus was spreading way before that. In January 2020, forwarded messages started circulating on WhatsApp about people dying in China due to a “mysterious disease.” Soon after that, a few Facebook pages and Twitter profiles started posting video clips taken from a Hollywood movie and equated them with the situation in Wuhan. Pakistan’s mainstream media was rather careful in its reporting of coronavirus, but that had more to do with its hesitation to comment on anything controversial related to China than the fact that it was exercising any social responsibility.

While most of the initial WhatsApp posts had the usual "قدرتی آفت" (natural calamity) and "خدا کا عذاب "  (divine affliction) narrative, there was a particular forwarded message that advised people not to order anything from AliExpress as the virus can stay on the delivery package for days. The Current ( a Pakistani digital only news outlet)  tried to debunk this myth and advised their readers to not opt for faster delivery in order to reduce their chances of getting infected by the virus:

As it turned out, AliExpress packages did not become the gateway to Pakistan for coronavirus but the virus did reach us eventually. What followed next was a flood of false information related to COVID-19 origin, remedies and how it spreads.

Misinformation and Government’s Response

Social media became the breeding ground of misinformation on coronavirus; with WhatsApp leading the way as the super spreader of this disinfodemic. Controversy theories were on the rise and many social media users were calling this virus a "یہودی سازش" (A Jewish conspiracy) or an aftermath of a 5G experiment. However, there was no sustained disinformation campaign in Pakistan as far as the origin of the virus is concerned. Zarrar Khurro (Twitter : @ZarrarKhuhro), a senior journalist at Dawn, is of the view that in Pakistan, Covid-19 related misinformation was rather harmless than many other countries. “Of course, the typical WhatsApp forwarded messages were there, but we did not see any sustained disinformation campaign here driven out of political agenda like the one we saw in the US.”

Zarrar Khurro is partially right! Most of the fake news around Covid-19 in Pakistan was not politically motivated. It was harmful nonetheless as the majority of social media users believed in such messages without verifying them. WhatsApp chats and Facebook groups were flooded with posts and videos advising people not to visit hospitals as doctors might inject them with poison and sell their dead bodies to Bill Gates/USA/WHO. In an interview for this piece, Dr. Arslan Khalid (@arslankhalid_m), who is Prime Minister’s focal person on digital media, said that this would have become a dangerous pattern if left unaddressed.

In order to prevent this kind of misinformation, the government took two major steps. In March, the government  took all the major digital media portals and influencers on board for an awareness campaign around Covid-19. Digital content from the likes of Nashpati Prime and Bekaar Films gathered good views and sensitized the public about the pandemic:

Apart from this, a committee was formed by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in July to prepare a legal framework to counter the spread of false information about the pandemic. This committee worked under the Chairmanship of the Interior Minister retired Brig. Ijaz Shah, while representatives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MOIB), Health department, the Inter Services Public Relations Pakistan (ISPR), and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were part of the committee too. Dr. Khalid, who is also one of the members of the committee, said that they identified and removed many fake posts that termed Coronavirus as a hoax. He also pointed out that social media companies such as Facebook did not promptly respond to fake news complaints raised by the government and it was difficult for them to identify fake content that was shared in local languages.

The curious case of Corona remedies:

Perhaps the largest number of fake news in Pakistan was related to the cure of the virus. Ranging from immunity boosting drinks that can prevent the infection to home-made remedies that can cure corona positive patients; social media was filled with unverified and false information. According to Ramsha Jahangir (@ramshajahangir) - a journalist and researcher with a focus on technology and human rights - the key factor that led to the rapid spread of misinformation was the novel nature of the virus itself. “The corona crisis was unprecedented; it was new and unknown. There were no hard facts about Covid-19 and the situation was constantly changing. Even WHO had to change its policies a couple of times. Now, it has been eleven months and we still don’t have a definite cure to Covid-19, which is why everybody is coming up with different theories.”

As the number of Corona cases increased in Pakistan; desi remedies recommending the use of garlic, saltwater, onions, lemon juice, senna leaves (sana makki) and ginger have all featured in viral posts on social media. In a matter of a few days, several whatsapp forwards started making rounds suggesting remedies for the cure of coronavirus. Most of these remedies were falsely credited to WHO, UNESCO, US and UK based doctors.

A post went viral in which UK based Dr. Nazir Ahmed, a non MBBS doctor dealing in herbal medicine, claimed that he had cured over 150 Covid-19 patients with tea made out of sana makki. This misinformation was soon debunked but not before the demand of sanna makki reached an all-time high in the country. Some of the government officials also shared such posts on their social media accounts and gave way to corona related rumors.


If we put aside the misinformation that was spread via social media, the government’s core messaging around corona was also problematic to some extent.  We can see that eleven months into the pandemic and we as a nation have not been able to adopt mask-wearing and social distancing practices at a mass level. Dr. Arslan Khalid defends the government “I believe that everybody became a medical expert during the corona crisis. This trend was not limited to social media only; mainstream media also added to the misinformation. The way Plasma therapy was hyped by our media, even though its effectiveness is still unproven, that could have been avoided. It’s not just the government, media and civil society should also sensitize the public.”

Fact-checking efforts around Covid-19:

The cure for Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be found but effective and timely fact-checking can surely cure the disinfodemic. In the wake of the corona crisis, many international organizations have launched fact-checking initiatives that aim to debunk the myths and provide sound scientific guidance. In Pakistan, we can identify  few such initiatives, but their reach and effectiveness is still to be determined. The government of Pakistan, for example, has added a section on its Corona portal  titled Myths about Covid-19. It has also introduced Chatbots on Messenger and WhatsApp and a Fake News counter on the Press Information Department (PID) website. Around 200 influencers have been taken on board by the Prime Minister Office to keep the public well-informed (#ehtiyatcorona Urdu for ‘be careful about corona’).

Apart from this, we have a few independent fact-checking organizations such as Soch Fact-Check, Sachee Khabar, and Surkhi who are working to debunk myths around coronavirus. According to Ramsha Jahangir, there are no dedicated fact-checkers in the mainstream media, but a few organizations such as Dawn and Express Tribune have some fact-checking mechanisms in place.

Fact-checking is being done in Pakistan at some level, but these initiatives have limitations in terms of reach and effectiveness. Misinformation spreads at a rapid speed; and these portals don’t have the capacity to counter false news with the same strength and magnitude. Much more needs to be done now to enhance Pakistan’s response to this disinfodemic.


Using Digital Literacy to fight Fake News:

Now that the country is going through the second wave of Covid-19, there is a dire need to launch Digital Literacy programs and equip the citizens to identify and counter fake news. Zarrar Khurro argues that “Fact-checking has now become a life skill. Everyone should learn to do a basic Google search and reverse image search before forwarding any Covid-related remedy.” It might be easier said than done but there cannot be a better weapon to fight disinformation than to equip the public with fact-checking skills. The consumers of fake news need to be apprised of this disinfodemic and how to counter it. To achieve this goal, a collaboration is required between all the key stakeholders; the government, media, and civil society. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs should be designed to address Covid-19 disinformation. Educational institutes could step up to impart fact-checking skills among students. Local body officials can also play an important role by engaging people in their constituencies.

The existing fact-checking infrastructure also needs an overhaul. There must be dedicated fact-checkers in the newsrooms across the country. At the same time, the capacity of independent fact-checking organizations should be increased. Government should actively work with social media companies to identify and debunk any false information related to coronavirus. While doing so, it must keep its personal vendetta aside and should not target the voices through dissent. Our experts have a few more suggestions to curb the disinfodemic:

Zarrar Khurro (Senior journalist – Dawn)

Journalists should exercise caution while reporting corona related information. Always attribute the information to credible sources only.

Government should facilitate independent fact-checkers to debunk Covid related misinformation. Information shared in local languages must be closely monitored for fact-checking. 

Education and Health ministries should collaborate with educational institutions to create Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs focused on Covid-19. Training programs for teachers, students and parents should be organized.
Ramsha Jahangir (Journalists and Researcher)

Mainstream media has a wider reach than that of independent fact-checkers. The media must step up now and hire fact-checkers in their newsrooms. 

Debunked and fact-checked content must be translated in Urdu and local languages.

We need to create digital literacy programs that do away with the jargons and go down to basics. A common person doesn’t understand the difference between misinformation and disinformation. S/he doesn’t know how to report Fake News on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. These skills should be taught to people in the language that they understand.

Zainab Husain (Managing Editor at Soch Fact-Check) (@ZainabHusainn)

Journalism degree programs throughout the country should introduce mandatory courses on fact-checking and source verification. 

Local media organizations should take advantage of the resources offered by International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and First Draft. Links: &

Digital media portals that have a good number of followers should exercise some responsibility before publishing viral stories. They should publish only verified information and should regularly debunk myths around coronavirus.

Dr. Arslan Khalid (Prime Minister's Focal Person on Digital Media)

Media should regularly debunk the myths around coronavirus. It seems we have to live with this crisis for more time now, so awareness campaigns on the mainstream media should not be stopped.

We need to tweak the communication strategy in the wake of the second wave. Core messaging can remain the same but we need to expand our delivery channels and address misinformation proactively.

Our health communication strategy needs to be revised in order to prepare a ground for Covid-19 vaccination, if and when it becomes available.