Study finds ‘online harassment’ and ‘breach of data privacy’ major concerns of Pakistani Internet users

Research by Media Matters for Democracy reveals that Pakistani women’s use of the Internet is hindered by online harassment; recommends better implementation of harassment safeguards in anti-cybercrimes law and demands legislation on data protection

Islamabad – Internet users in Pakistan have identified harassment and data privacy issues as their most pressing concerns online, according to a new study released by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) on Tuesday, July 30th, 2019.

The study, titled “The Internet as we see it: Gendered perceptions from Pakistan”, also found that men and women users agreed on the benefits of the web, such as connectivity and access to information, but differed in their reactions to harassment and restrictions on expression online.

The research sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of using the Internet in Pakistan and the difference between how men and women navigate digital spaces.

The full report can be accessed here.

The MMfD study revealed an overwhelming majority of research participants understood the importance of data privacy and surveillance. Speaking about the findings, Amel Ghani, a program manager of MMfD and the co-author of the study, said, “Many believe that awareness and understanding of these issues in the general users in Pakistan is somewhat low, but it was really interesting to see a rather deep understanding of these issues in Pakistani user base.”

The MMfD study recommends several ways to make the Internet a safer, more accessible space for users, especially women, in Pakistan where credible information is shared. It suggests improved implementation of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016, and a gender-sensitivity training for law enforcement officials so women facing online harassment feel confident about initiating legal actions against perpetrators. It also recommends Internet companies to enact efficient mechanisms for reporting false information, and media and civil society organisations to raise public awareness about ways to protect against online disinformation.

Exploring the stigma around women’s open access to technology has been an eye opener, demonstrating how patriarchy’s impact is far reaching and transcends across mediums, Hija Kamran, who leads MMfD’s Digital Rights and Internet Governance program, said.

“The first step towards an inclusive Internet is to acknowledge that there’s a spectrum of users online, and the discussion around bridging the digital gender divide is important to ensure that women and other gendered minorities can avail the opportunities that digital access provides,” Ms. Kamran said.

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