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May 21, 2024 - Comments Off on April 2024 Newsletter: Digital Rights Foundation released its Cyber Harassment Helpline Report for 2023

April 2024 Newsletter: Digital Rights Foundation released its Cyber Harassment Helpline Report for 2023

The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) has released its seventh annual Cyber Harassment Helpline Report for 2023. The Helpline has completed seven years of operations since its launch in December 2016 and has received a total number of 16,849 complaints from across Pakistan. In 2023 alone a total of 2473 new complaints were received on the helpline with an average number of 206 new complaints received each month and February 2023 having the most complaints in the year.


Read the entire report here:


Press Coverage:


The Daily Spokesman Digital Rights Foundation releases Cyber Harassment Helpline report for 2023
The Public Purview DRF released seventh annual Cyber Harassment Helpline Report
The Reporters DRF Cyber Harassment Helpline Report: Rise in Online Violence
Dawn Report notes use of AI for violence against women
The News Women largest victims of online harassment: DRF
The Friday Times AI Among Technologies Increasingly Used To Harass Women Online In Pakistan Average of 206 harassment complaints each month: DRF Helpline Report ’23
Daily Dunya
Times of Karachi DRF report highlights alarming rate of online harassment against women in Pakistan
India Blooms Pakistan witnessing surge in cases related to AI use in violence against women


Policy Initiatives: 

Digital Rights Foundation releases its annual report

This comprehensive annual report highlights DRF's efforts during the transformative year of 2023, highlighting the organization's significant milestones and notable accomplishments. At the heart of DRF's mission is an unwavering dedication to creating online spaces that are not only safer, but also more inclusive and accessible to all. This report exemplifies our core values by demonstrating the diligence and dedication we bring to our mission year after year, resulting in a tangible difference.


Read the entire report here:


Digital Rights Foundation Public Comment On Oversight Board Case 2023-038-Fb-Mr (Pakistani Parliament Speech)

In May 2023, a video was posted on Facebook by a news channel where a Pakistani politician was addressing the parliament and made comments that suggested that some public officials, including military personnel, needed to be hanged in order for the country to ‘heal itself.’ This was achieved by drawing parallels between the contemporary Pakistani political landscape and the perceived necessity for these executions with an ancient Egyptian ritual where individuals were sacrificed in the River Nile as a means of controlling flooding. Considering this, DRF submitted a comment stating that Meta should have taken down the video from Facebook in accordance with its Violence and Incitement Policy


However, after review the Oversight Board upheld Meta’s decision to leave up the content. The Board found that the post does not violate the Violence and Incitement Community Standard because it was shared by a media outlet seeking to inform others and therefore falls under the exception for “awareness raising.” The full decision can be read here


Girls in ICT Day 2024

On this Girls in ICT Day 2024, DRF held a session in the GGHS Model APS Model Town Lahore public school to emphasize the importance of developing leadership skills among young women in the field of ICT, as well as the importance of online safety and digital literacy.


Watch the entire coverage here:


Press Coverage: 


Rolling Stone Fake Photos, Real Harm: AOC and the Fight Against AI Porn
Compiler Harm Reduction
The Friday Times Pakistan's Misogynistic Lord Of The Flies
The Express Tribune Harassment via AI
Dawn ‘Women more prone to online hate speech’
The Express Tribune Parliament, judiciary urged to protect rights
IFEX Journalists who ‘crossed the line’, digital repression, blasphemy prosecutions, and marriage equality bill
The Current Asma Jahangir Conference receives flak for expelling pro-Palestinian protestors



Nighat Dad at Skoll World Forum

Nighat Dad was part of the panel at Skoll World Forum titled “Reclaiming Truth in the Age of Information Disorder''. She discussed the crucial role of credible and truthful information in sustaining democracy. She highlighted the challenges posed by emerging technologies, such as fake news and deep fakes, which complicate the identification of truth. Dad emphasizes the growing crisis of distrust in institutions and information, which is particularly critical during elections and highlighted DRF’s work such as our Cyber Harassment Helpline that helps mitigate such a crisis. 

The session also explored potential solutions to counter misinformation and restore trust in democratic processes.


Watch the entire panel here:


Nighat Dad at the IFEX Convening 

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of the Digital Rights Foundation, attended the first in-person IFEX network convening since the COVID-19 pandemic in April. This significant event, held in Berlin, provided a rare and invaluable opportunity for over 100 member organizations from more than 70 countries to come together and deepen their collaborative efforts in defending freedom of expression and information. The gathering prioritized authentic, unstructured interactions over formal presentations, fostering vibrant corridor conversations and genuine engagement. This approach was aimed at strengthening connections and collective power, underlined by a set of newly adopted principles of collaboration.

Nighat Dad at Asma Jahangir Conference 2024 (AJCONF 2024)

DRF's Executive Director Nighat Dad talked as a panelist on the panel discussion titled “Online Hate Speech & Disinformation” at the 5th Asma Jahangir Conference held on 28 April 2024 in Lahore. The panel focused on relevant laws and regulations in Pakistan governing online hate speech and disinformation. Additionally, the discussion revolved around how social media companies enforce human rights standards, particularly concerning vulnerable communities and sexual/gender minorities. The ongoing litigation under unconstitutional laws (e.g., section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and 124-A sedition of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860) was also discussed. 


At the end of the panel discussion, there was a call for capacity-building training for government and law enforcement personnel to improve investigation methods and evidence handling, and also an appeal for state efforts to regulate social media while safeguarding human rights by considering decriminalization of speech in general. Furthermore, the discussion highlighted the need to maintain a check on the adverse effects of social media platforms blocking free speech, financial independence, and foreign investments in Pakistan.


Listen to the full panel here:


WISE Session on Digital Inclusion: Empowering Women & Communities

DRF’s legal team attended a session hosted by WISE (Women in Struggle For Empowerment) focusing on Digital Inclusion: Empowering Women & Communities, held on April 4th, 2024 in Lahore. During the session, team members shared invaluable insights regarding the FIA Complaint Mechanism, covering reporting procedures, the support offered to victims via the DRF helpline, and the pivotal role of legal frameworks in combating online harassment or abuse. Throughout the session, our team explored the crucial role of legal frameworks in tackling online harassment or abuse, delving into challenges across physical and online spaces, and reflecting on pertinent legislation such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (‘PECA’). 


Digital Citizen Program in Government Schools

After the Ramadan break and final exams, DRF held two sessions in government high schools in Lahore. 357 students (females and males) and 9 teachers were informed about ways of staying safe in online spaces and reporting mechanisms in case of harassment or bullying. The participants were given gift bags with online safety resources and stationary.


DRF Updates: 

Cyber Harassment Helpline 

The Cyber Harassment Helpline received 306 complaints in total in April 2024, with 148 complaints by women. If you’re encountering a problem online, you can reach out to our helpline at 0800-39393, email us at [email protected] or reach out to us on our social media accounts. We’re available for assistance from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Sunday.


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.

Meta along with Revenge Porn Helpline (RPH) has launched a portal to support victims of Non-Consensual Intimate Image Abuse (NCII). NCII is a free portal for reporting cases of sensitive or sexual content existing online. Once you report a case, the necessary steps will be taken to block the images from the platform.




Submission Author: Maryam Ali Khan
Submission Date: 23rd January, 2024

In May 2023, a video was posted on Facebook by a news channel where a Pakistani politician was addressing the parliament and made comments that suggested that some public officials, including military personnel, needed to be hanged in order for the country to ‘heal itself.’ This was achieved by drawing parallels between the contemporary Pakistani political landscape and the perceived necessity for these executions with an ancient Egyptian ritual where individuals were sacrificed in the River Nile as a means of controlling flooding. Considering this, Meta should have taken down the video from Facebook in accordance with its Violence and Incitement Policy. The policy clearly stipulates that any content containing statements targeting individuals, other than private and high-risk persons with statements that advocated or called for violence, as well as statements containing aspirational or conditional calls to violence will be removed.

The statements made by the politician in the video were clearly inflammatory and violent especially when you look at them within the context of the country’s political history and how public hangings of influential figures, such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, have been manipulated by those in power to advance their agendas and propagate specific narratives - narratives that have had long term consequences on the political fabric of the country. When looking at posts and content such as this, it is also important to consider the role that state institutions such as the military and judiciary have played and continue to play in Pakistani politics. Pakistan has had a history of military managing or meddling with civilian state institutions. Free press and journalism have been relentlessly monitored and restricted during these periods of military rule, with censorship and intimidation being a regular occurrence. Journalists and citizens encounter a variety of problems, including threats of assault and harassment. Pakistan currently ranks 150th out of 180 nations in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, indicating a striking deterioration in freedom of the press. As the country progresses, it is critical that authorities take relevant steps to ensure freedom of the press, especially due to the fact that no democracy can function efficiently without it.

As Pakistan approaches its upcoming general elections scheduled for February, familiar patterns seem to be repeating themselves. Censorship of the press and journalists has been ongoing before and after Imran Khan was ousted as the Prime Minister after a no-confidence motion in April 2022. There have been multiple riots by supporters of his party since then and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), has increasingly censored media outlets and journalists who are critical of the state. Additionally, there have been multiple state-imposed internet shutdowns in an attempt to silence dissent and disrupt online political campaigning by certain political parties. Since May 2023, former prime minister Imran Khan has been in jail, and his party members are being severely restricted by authorities from freely contesting elections.

In Pakistan, social media and digital platforms have played a huge role in amplifying journalistic freedom. These platforms allow journalists and media organizations to quickly reach a much larger audience than was conventionally possible before. However, this has also meant that a lot of journalists and news agencies have been unable to maintain their standards of what content is “newsworthy”, and many times share content that is nothing but sensational, and is intended to bring in views - which is good for business. Journalists are pressured by media houses to report and sensationalize news, reflecting the severe absence of ethical journalism standards in the industry. We have also seen a shift in the industry where news reporting is no longer a monopoly maintained by journalists. Pakistan has seen an increasing trend of

‘Youtubers,’ ‘political commentators’, and ‘influencers’ spreading disinformation under the guise of news in the country.

The speech provided no useful information and led to more instability in the country leading up to the May 9th events in the country when riots broke out in cities after Imran Khan was ousted and military official buildings were attacked. What's more alarming is that this particular speech incited public opinion towards attacking public officials who can be in the guise of military officials, politicians, and any other official believed to be working for a political opponent other than the proclaimed party who made this statement.

When determining what kind of content should be allowed to stay up on social media platforms, content moderators should keep in mind these regional and political contexts. How certain content could escalate offline and online violence should especially be considered. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press can be achieved without having to resort to blatant violent speech. In content removal and guideline development, Meta should encourage governments to adhere to appropriate protocols for submitting content removal requests. The Pakistani government has had the capability to monitor and censor online material and has in the past issued draconian laws for social media platforms in February 2020, which allow them to erase “unlawful” information within 24 hours. These restrictions have been criticized for limiting freedom of expression and stifling dissent of users online. The 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) also gives authorities powers to monitor and prohibit internet information. Therefore, it is essential that the government establishes a well-defined set of guidelines and protocols that prioritize human rights guiding principles and the freedom of the press. The justification for content removal should not be based on its opposition to the state or its advocacy for causes such as women's and trans rights - which are often misunderstood as ‘un Islamic,’ ‘immoral,’ ‘vulgar’ and ‘immodest.’

These steps will help in the democratization and de-escalation of political tensions both in online and offline platforms, while simultaneously improving the quality of journalism in the country.

*To the read the Oversight Board’s full decision on this case:

**To read see all submitted Public Comments:



Submission: Research Department, Digital Rights Foundation
Submission Date: 30th November, 2023

Meta’s classifiers failed to assess the relevant context and took too abrupt a decision in removing the post shared on Instagram. The shared video showed a man confronting a woman in public because she was not wearing a hijab. The woman whose face was visible in the video, was arrested following the incident. The accompanying Persian caption used descriptive language to express the user’s support for the woman in the video and all Iranian women standing up to the regime. As per Meta's assessment, the caption was construed as having an "intent to commit high severity violence," thereby violating its Violence and Incitement policy. The post was later restored to Instagram under the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy after the user appealed to Meta and it was decided that the post did not violate community standards. This policy outlined that users may be allowed to advocate and debate the legality of content that aimed to draw attention to harmful or criminal activity as long as they did not advocate for or coordinate harm. It also outlined that any content that put unveiled women at risk would require additional information and context.

It is important to note that this context was provided in the post if the classifiers were designed to assess the content in totality instead of processing the caption and media individually. The attack did not take place in a vacuum and was a byproduct of strict moral policing by the Iranian state. This was exacerbated by ongoing political unrest that had unfolded in September 2022 when Mahsa Amini was taken into custody by the morality police under accusations of observing ‘improper hijab’ - where she suspiciously died of a heart attack. This sparked nationwide protests, united by the chant: ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’ (Woman, Life, freedom).

For the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement, social media and online platforms were paramount in the mobilization of protests and broadcasting of vital information. Videos and pictures from various protests in schools, universities, and streets were circulated which showed more and more women exercising their right to freedom of expression by appearing in public without their head coverings. Social media allowed the protesters a platform to get their message out into the world. A prominent Iranian actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, posted multiple pictures of herself without a headscarf on Instagram with the caption ‘Woman. Life. Freedom’. Women willfully

unveiling in public spaces quickly became a symbol of defiance against the morality police, and the regime. As expected, acts of defiance such as unveiling in public in a political and religious climate, such as Iran’s, comes with its own risks. Women and girls who have stepped out in public without a head covering have been arrested, beaten, and had items like yogurt dumped on their heads. Men have also been arrested and beaten for showing support for the cause. 

Additionally, the Iranian authorities resorted to unprecedented levels of internet shutdowns in an attempt to silence dissent and isolate the Iranian people from the world. According to, an Iran-focused internet monitor, Iran experienced internet blackouts for over four months either nationwide, or at a provincial level after Mahsa Aminis death. Moreover, the government enacted legislation that allowed the government to monitor and identify individuals based on their online activity. 

These measures are a part of the government's effort to curtail freedom of expression and access to the global online platform. A majority of Iranian users are either experiencing constant removal of their content or know at least one person who is being censored in the Persian language. The most common type of content that has been removed or shadowbanned are hashtags of human rights campaigns; comedians posting political satire; and activists organizations using chants like “death to Khamenei”. Persian language news organizations have also had their content removed simply for discussing political organizations. Most of the content posted on Meta is in languages other than English, with more than a hundred languages being used on Facebook. This needs to be taken into account when assembling contextual embeddings. Meta needs to improve its Natural Language Processing (NLP), scaling it across more languages. Systems that detect and remove policy-violating content should then be trained accordingly.

Access to safe and well regulated social media platforms are essential for socio-political movements, making it essential for Meta to review its content moderation according to multiple regional, cultural, and linguistic contexts. Prior to content removal based solely on the judgment of automated classifiers, Meta should prioritize training manual moderators in understanding relevant complications tied to online content. This approach would allow human moderators to assess both media content and their accompanying captions in accordance to contextual cues, allowing for a more nuanced and accurate decision making process compared to evaluating them separately. Social media users ought to have the freedom to share content expressing their support for a cause or condemning harmful regimes and beliefs. This should be permitted without Meta's classifiers flagging it as a violation, even in cases where the language used may be deemed 'offensive.' It is important to note that offensive language can be used in non-offensive contexts, and hate speech does not always contain offensive language.

 CNN, Leading Iranian actor posts picture without hijab in support of anti-government protests (CNN, 2022)

 AWID, Iran's Year of Defiance and Repression: How One Woman's Death Sparked a Nationwide Uprising (AWID, 2023)

 BBC NEWS, Iranian Women arrested for not covering hair after man attacks them with yogurt (BBC, 2023)

May 2, 2024 - Comments Off on The Erased 2024: Together against censorship

The Erased 2024: Together against censorship

On World Press Freedom Day we turn all eyes on the danger of censorship and the hundreds of imprisoned journalists worldwide by launching the ‘The Erased’ campaign. Most of the time, the stories of imprisoned journalists remain untold - because what is not published cannot be read. Now, we make them visible. Media outlets and organisations worldwide have joined Free Press Unlimited in making a stand against censorship.

In 2023, CPJ registered 320 imprisoned journalists worldwide. The Erased uses a unique font that links every single one of these 320 journalists to a censored word, and erases these words from participating (news) websites around the world. This symbolises the importance of free and independent journalism, and the danger of censorship: it takes away our right to know.

Journalists as targets

All over the world journalists face censorship while they attempt to publish about violations, to bring abuse of power to light, or to simply document what is happening in front of them. We see journalists becoming targets in conflicts. When we look at Palestine, all documented 17 arrests took place after 7 October 2023. For many of them the charges remain unknown. These journalists spoke about a war, suppression and bombing before being detained.

Top jailors

In Myanmar, where after the coup by the military democracy has crumbled, a staggering 43 journalists have been arrested in 2023. They wrote about injustice, violence, and disinformation. The top jailor is China, with 44 imprisoned journalists in 2023. A topic that is strictly censored is the pressing situation of the Uyghur people. Anything that relates to this is censored, from the name of the Xinjiang province that is home to this minority group, to the word concentration, following the accusations of the internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in concentration camps.

Making stories visible

Besides making censorship visible, we also shine a light on the journalists that face arrest, assaults or imprisonment.

Each erased word symbolises a currently imprisoned journalist. As part of the campaign, people can click through to

‘The Erased’ website on which the erased words become visible, and where stories of journalists who faced imprisonment or legal threats are shared through in-depth interviews.

“Both I and the people around me were targeted by the government. It eventually forced me to go into exile. (...) My aim is to show everyone that giving up is not an option. As journalists, it is our duty to hold those in power accountable.” Solomon Amabo, Cameroon, one of the featured journalists

The unknown

Even though we do our best to make visible what is happening to journalists all over the world while they report the truth, there are always cases without faces, the unknown journalists who disappear without a trace. Therefore, these 320 erased words, those stories of imprisoned journalists we share, stand for all journalists who experience censorship by assault, arrest, or even death. They are risking their lives to bring abuse of power to light, and truth to the people.

We stand in solidarity and support. Now is the time to come together and fight against censorship. When journalists are silenced, we will raise our voice. Join us! Go the 'The Erased' website.

The Erase