The pandemic has forced us to spend even more time cooped up in our homes, and naturally, has resulted in a drastic increase in cyber activity. And with an increase in cyber activity comes an unfortunate increase in cases of cyber harassment, hate speech, blackmailing, non-consensual advances, and a whole host of problematic online behaviors. It is little wonder, therefore, that the number of complaints received by the cyber harassment helpline increased by 189 percent during the first few months of the pandemic-induced lockdown.
According to a report from the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), as compared to January and February, March and April saw an increase of 189 percent in complaints registered with the DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline. In terms of numbers, 136 complaints were received during March and April, compared to 47 in January and February 2020.
When the country entered its first lockdown in response to the pandemic outbreak, the DRF did talk about the possibility of an increase in cyber-harassment cases.
Here is a breakdown of the categories in which the complaints were registered:
- Defamation: 4%
- Hate speech: 1%
- Fake profiles: 4%
- Blackmailing: 18%
- Unsolicited contact: 17%
- Non-consensual: 18%
- Threat: 13%
- Phishing: 7%
As can be seen, blackmailing, non-consensual advances, and unwanted contact made up for the largest percentage of cyber harassment cases. The majority of these complaints came from Lahore and other areas of Punjab and were largely lodged by those aged between 20-25 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t done us any favors, and the deplorable increase in cyber harassment cases across the country simply underscores this point. It is imperative that we adopt a comprehensive system of digital forensics and investigation, and a case management system to handle and address the cases in a satisfactory manner.
The online space can truly be like the Wild West, but with careful moderation and immediate reactionary measures, it doesn’t have to be.