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Journalists Vow Not To Be Cowed Into Silence Amid Bullying, Threats

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Digital Rights Monitor (DRM), an internet rights website by Media Matters for Democracy, looked into the largely controversial hashtag that was trending on Twitter a few days ago. The hashtag in question, #ArrestAntiPakJournalist was targeting journalists with extremely vile and hateful speech. According to DRM, it uncovers some troubling facts.

As per reports majority of such content is initiated through human bot accounts and organised campaigns who tend to target a particular group of individuals, organisations, etc.

Source: DRM

In the article titled, “DRM Investigates: Twitter Accounts Behind the Hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists”, it states that the observed hashtag started trending after 11:00 AM on 4th July following a tweet from Team #IK_Warriors(@Ik_Warriors) announcing the “launch” of the hashtag “#ArrestAntiPakJournalists”.

It further called upon the followers to “grab the keyboard and start trending”, along with a picture of the journalists and anchorpersons alleged to be “the members of pro-India, anti-Pak media group”. This is a familiar method whereby trolls associated with a certain party start trending a hashtag.

DRM analysed the way the hashtag ended up becoming a top trend on Twitter. The research concludes that the said hashtag with a low of 45 tweets per hour, and in a matter of minutes reached 4508 tweets per hour. Such a performance is a pure reflection of artificial amplification through human bots and purpose orientated social media teams.

The report further stated that the hashtag was coupled with a huge number of retweets.

 “An unnaturally high number of retweets, combined with the lower number of the other direct interactions demonstrates certain automation and amplification, and maybe an indicator of potential ‘engineering’.”, the report says.

What entails further interest in the said hashtag is, a handful of Twitter accounts contributing towards it.

By far, the most active contributor was @IK_Warrior, an account claiming to be the ‘team leader’ of the group ‘IK Warriors’ which announced the launch of this hashtag. Said account alone contributed a massive 1179 interactions (1179 retweets and 69 tweets) to the #ArrestAntiPakJournalists.”

Source: DRM

@IK_Warrior was reported to post close to 16000 tweets in the past few days generating massive activity on Twitter, an in-depth analysis revealed that tweets are posted as part of an organized campaign to favor Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

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The said hashtag targeted famous journalists and anchorpersons including Capital Talk host Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, and others.

“Informatics data suggest that Hamid Mir’s Twitter handle was mentioned, replied, tagged and/or reposted in nearly 2100 tweets, and Asma Shirazi’s handle in 680 similar interactions – highest and second highest respectively.”

DRM observed that a variety of doctored images and extremely vile and hateful content was also shared rampantly.

Meanwhile, the said journalists have vowed not to be silenced by such tactics.

‘FACELESS PEOPLE RUNNING CAMPAIGNS AGAINST JOURNALISTS’:

Senior journalist Asma Shirazi said that PM Imran Khan should take notice of the campaign against journalists because the trending topic in question was started by an account claiming to be his supporter. “There are faceless people who run such campaigns against journalists and activists critical of the state’s policies,” she told Naya Daur.

She further said that Hamid Mir’s interview with former president Asif Zardari was taken off air under mysterious circumstances. “My own interview with former PM Nawaz Sharif last year was forcibly stopped from being aired. The wave of censorship and government’s overall hostility towards dissent is linked to the cyber-bullying that is targeting the dissenting journalists”, she added.

Asma further said that the threat level [towards journalists] has increased ever since the PTI came into power. “Apart from the online campaigns, journalists are being pressured and threatened in real life too,” she added.
Asma called on the government to act against those targeting journalists online under the country’s Cyber Crime laws.

‘MUZZLING OF CRITICAL VOICES DETRIMENTAL FOR FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY’:

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Journalist Raza Rumi who was among those targeted in the smear campaign, said: “I am not sure why my name is included. I am no longer part of mainstream media but this is plain harassment and muzzling of critical voices.”

He said that such moves were not just detrimental for the future of democracy but also the government itself. “Once out of power the ruling party would need the media to convey its message and where would it go to? A wall of silence?,” he said.

To further inquire about the hashtag in question, Naya Daur reached out to Shahzad Hussain from Bytes for All, a research think tank with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Shehzad was of the view that there were 15 to 16 individuals namely @TeamIk_Warrior who initiated this.
“The hashtag began somewhere during daytime and then was picked up by like-minded individuals”, he said.

“The question is that even after the identification of such accounts, why didn’t the authorities take any action?,” he asked.

Shahzad further said that the authorities need to act against these cyber bullies who are harassing journalists and activists on social media.

Even if they are associated with a certain political party, it’s the duty of the state to stop the hateful campaign”, he said, adding that such people should have been called for an inquiry according to the cyber crime laws.
He said that the journalists who were targeted in the online campaign didn’t register complains because they knew no action would be taken. The authorities need to come into play and act accordingly, he added.

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