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Editorial | Political Parties Should Stop Weaponising Vile Online Abuse That Targets Women

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Pakistani social media can sometimes be a place of incisive commentary and great wit. But on most other days, especially given the deep polarization in the country along multiple axes, it is a deeply unpleasant experience to scroll down our social media feeds. From ugly smears at political opponents to sectarian-religious battle-cries and even calls for mob-style violence, this has been a particularly nasty year on social media.

And when nothing else works in a political battle, there is always the go-to option of disgusting attacks on women associated with “the other side.” Over the past few hours, there has been yet again a clash of tit-for-tat hashtags on Twitter, each targeting prominent women with the most vile abuse.

It began with supporters of the ruling party attacking opposition leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif – no doubt spurred on by nervousness over the upcoming Pakistan Democratic movement (PDM) mass mobilization in Lahore. This was soon responded to with trending hashtags targeting Bushra Bibi, the wife of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The culture of abusing women in public has now become so normalized on social media that the current torrent of invective has nothing to do with specific things that they said or did. It was simply a case of treating these women as repositories of the ‘honour’ of their respective ‘sides’ – and therefore making them fair game for pro-government and pro-opposition trolls alike.

For years now, critics of the no-holds-barred abusive culture promoted by PTI leaders and supporters have argued that this will lead to an overall moral degeneration in Pakistani politics and society alike. Now, with gangs of opposition supporters adopting the same methods as the troll armies of the ruling party, all those warnings – unheeded by those who initiated this culture – have come true.

Opposition supporters must equally realize that no amount of provocation by the ruling party’s supporters can justify resorting to the same level. Opponents of the ruling party must make at least a modicum of effort to distinguish themselves from its behaviour. An easy place to begin would be to restrain themselves from wanton abuse directed at the family members of those in power.

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Naya Daur