Facebook set to launch digital literacy programmes in Pakistan in 2020

ISLAMABAD: Although Pakistan is among countries where most content is restricted on Facebook, cases of harassment remain under-reported due to a lack of public awareness on reporting mechanisms.

Speakers at an awareness talk held on Thursday said that the use of social media platforms was becoming increasingly restrictive for women and the challenge to ensure safety and protect the rights of social media community members was growing.

The talk titled ‘Creating Safe Online Spaces: safety for women’ was organised by Facebook to highlight its efforts to eradicate content targeting women and children. The speakers highlighted that the problem was not limited to women but even men were reluctant to report harassment, including sharing of non-consensual images, to platforms.

Facebook’s head of Safety Policy for Asia-Pacific region, Amber Hawkes, said that the Facebook Community Standards and the Instagram Community Guidelines outlined rules for what was allowed on the platforms. She said the guidelines were developed by teams and local partners spread across the world, and the contents were monitored by technology tools.

“This year, over five million pieces on child exploitation were removed globally and 99 per cent were detected by the artificial intelligence tools,” Ms Hawkes added.

Facebook is set to launch digital literacy programmes in Pakistan in 2020, with the help of local partners — such as the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) — to raise awareness related to the safe usage of social media platforms as well as reporting mechanisms.

Shmyla Khan, DRF programme and research manager, detailed types of online threats faced by women in Pakistan that include non-consensual use of intimate images (NCII), blackmailing and extortion, trolling, accessing private data, monitoring and tracking, graphic threats of violence, and abusive comments.

She said that internet was largely governed by the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca), particularly through Sections 21 and 24, while Section 20 (criminal defamation) was often used by law enforcement agencies to prosecute women naming harassers in online spaces. However, she added, even men could lodge complaints under the law (cyber-stalking under Section 24) that applies to unwanted contact, spying, or distributing information without consent.

She said Peca was under the jurisdiction of the FIA, but the agency had limited capacity to deal with the complaints. Besides, she added, the officials were gender insensitive and slow to act.

Facebook Public Policy manager Sehar Tariq said that there was a very strict policy for teenagers to create an account.

“We have zero tolerance for child exploitation imagery and take proactive and aggressive measures to protect our young users from predators,” she said, adding that Facebook required a user to be at least 13 years old before they could create an account, but in some jurisdictions the age limit was higher.

The speakers highlighted that the internet usage in Pakistan stands at 22.2 per cent of the population, but women were 43pc less likely to use internet as men among the 67 million broadband connections in the country.

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