Online harassment – 23 May 2023

Most women complained about blackmail, while men complained mostly about financial fraud

Online harassment continues to be a serious problem, and successive governments have been unable or incapable of fixing it. The non-government Digital Rights Foundation registered almost 2,700 complaints in the 2022 calendar year, or about 224 per month, nearly all of which were cyber harassment — 2,273. Although the data suggests that slightly more complainants were women — 58% — the nature of complaints from men and women was completely different. Transgender people also made up a disproportionately high number of the victims.

Most women complained about blackmail, while men complained mostly about financial fraud. This may also explain why some experts believe the number of women complaining is artificially suppressed — because of social taboos, women are often unwilling to speak of how they are being blackmailed for fear of those details or other private information becoming public. Meanwhile, as embarrassing as it may be to fall victim to a phishing scam or other financial fraud, people are generally willing to live it down to get their money back. Reporting was also disproportionately higher in Punjab, which comprised over 63% of reported cases despite only representing about 51% of the total population. Whether this is due to a higher frequency of attacks or greater awareness among victims is unclear.

Meanwhile, journalists and rights activists were the most common targets of harassment, which is a reminder of how the ways by which the powerful harass those who speak truth to power have evolved. The data also showed a degree of increased sophistication in attacks, such as targeted harassment and smear campaigns, along with more refined financial scams. This would be expected, given that increased access to technology has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in technological literacy. The problem, however, is that the relevant laws do both too much and too little — overly harsh penalties without the kind of skilled enforcers needed to actually punish anyone.

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