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Digital Rights Foundation’s Conference on Countering Digital Threats and Building Resilience of Communities

December 15, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) held a conference titled, ‘Countering Digital Threats and Building Resilience of Communities’ on Friday, 15th December 2023 in Islamabad. DRF’s conference addressed the lack of discourse relating to online freedoms in the country particularly with the rise of hate speech and disinformation against vulnerable and at-risk communities in Pakistan. The conference brought together experts from across the country with two panels that highlighted DRF’s engagements and redressal mechanisms available in the country for at-risk communities in Pakistan.

The event started off with welcome remarks by Seerat Khan Programs Lead at DRF in which she highlighted the particular vulnerabilities that religious minorities face in the country, especially with respect to rising hate speech and disinformation. Nighat Dad, Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation also noted that “With the upcoming elections we see how harmful content pertaining to religious minorities in the country is increasing, particularly (the elements of) disinformation and hate speech. The rise in hate speech and disinformation will be even more rapid with the use of AI and generative AI which is quite concerning. The Election Commission and government institutions need to address this and include hate speech in the code of conduct for political parties that the Commission is developing. Social media platforms also need to do more to address how hate speech and disinformation spread and impact they have on at-risk communities in countries like Pakistan.”

In 2021, DRF conducted a research on "Religious Minorities in Online Spaces (2021)," addressing communities' vulnerabilities to attacks, disinformation campaigns, harassment, and hate speech. The research mapped the experiences of religious minorities in online spaces and through surveys and interviews, we found a majority of respondents for the aforementioned research experienced online negativity, including backlash or threats on the basis of religious affiliation and/or a combination of factors.

The first panel of the conference, ‘Navigating Digital Boundaries: Combating Online Hate Speech and Disinformation’ was a conversation about the challenges posed by online hate speech and disinformation targeting at-risk communities. The panel was moderated by Senior Program Manager Zainab Durrani and included NCHR Secretary Mr. Kamran Rajar, Dr. Shoaib Suddle, One Man Commission for Minorities, Academic Dr. Ayra Patras, Journalist Sajjad Azhar and Director of Bolo Bhi, Usama Khilji. The panelists shed light on how online hate speech and disinformation manifest online and how to combat these as a community together.

Dr. Ayra Patras said,”When religious minority communities are ostracized in real life then you see the replication of this behavior online as well. We see more hate speech and there are no recompense mechanisms in place that actually work.” She added,”The social discrimination faced by these communities germinates into social exclusion and the consequences are far-reaching and become entrenched in real life.

The second panel of the event was on ‘Bridging the Digital Divide: Ensuring Equal Access for All’ which was moderated by Programs Lead Seerat Khan. The panel was joined by NCHR Member Minorities Manzoor Masih, Former Senator Farahtullah Baber, Community Leader and Activist Sunil Gulzar Khan and Cyber Harassment Helpline Manager Hyra Basit. The panel addressed mechanisms needed to ensure safe spaces for at-risk communities, particularly in light of the upcoming elections and the need for community building and resilience.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said,”The discussion around digital divide is very timely in light of  the upcoming elections. In Pakistan, media has played a great role in elections and online disinformation is a very real issue.” He added,”It is very important to considers all actors complicit in the online disinformation campaign and more than most, its the state is complicit”. He advocated for the Election Commission of Pakistan to develop a code of conduct for media house that is focused on combating disinformation on social media.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based NGO in Pakistan. Founded in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.
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Nighat Dad 
[email protected]

Seerat Khan
[email protected]

Anam Baloch
[email protected]

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Uncategorized

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