Aurora Magazine

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Published in Sep-Oct 2015

Mob Rules: Tabassum and Mawra lose

What makes people thoroughly unsocial on social media.
Illustration: Creative Unit
Illustration: Creative Unit

Who is Tabassum Mughal? Why is my Facebook Timeline full of messages spewing hate against this unknown woman? Why is my friend not deleting a comment on his share from the ‘Bring Tabassum Mughal to Justice’ page which calls for dragging her out into the streets so ‘justice’ can be served to her, presumably by lynching. Who is this family she has wronged, how is a close-up photo of a mildly bruised leg evidence of her wrongdoing. How many ‘citizen journalists’ do we have investigating this ‘travesty’ via social media, and how many ‘social activists’ do we have working on holding a protest outside Tabassum’s home?

Komal Rizvi I have vaguely heard of. I think she is a musician, though I have never heard her songs, and neither have the dozen or so Facebook friends of mine who are mocking her, laughing at memes of her and calling her a scumbag, good-for-nothing, rich, dim-witted, insensitive, anti-Pakistan **** for sharing a selfie she took with philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, during one of his routine hospital visits. The memes are captivating, and in truth,

I laughed along with everyone else. In private, I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the takedown of Tabassum, though I did not actively participate in yet another one of Pakistan’s growing list of social media ‘campaigns’.

And finally, Mawra Hocane, who happens to tweet that she wants to watch ‘anti-Pakistan’ film, Phantom “and then decide if it is good or bad.” Naturally patriots like actor Shaan Shahid had to step into the (online) fray calling for a ban on Mawra for her traitorous act. I can’t help but wonder if Shaan would say the same thing to her face, but that is irrelevant now; the Twitter banshees are upon her. We have #BanMawra trending, curses flying and calls for our young actress to be ‘taught a lesson’, or the more straightforward: raped/murdered.

The Romans had their arenas; we have social media. Both share certain principles i.e. creating a space for community building through engaging spectacle ranging from chariot racing, Farmville and CandyCrush to the blood-soaked gore of gladiator fights, and now, the arguably more thrilling and participatory act of beating someone to a pulp on Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan hasn’t had its first round of suicides from cyber bullying, or at least none that have reached mainstream media. Neither have we had our celebrities enter a dangerous, sometimes fatal downward slide induced by the mass exposure, mass scrutiny and massive campaigns that social media enables.

None of this has happened yet, but it will, just like it has the world over. The only question to ask is what form this dark side of online interaction will take in a country that is fragmented along class lines, ethnic divides and seemingly irresolvable religious differences. Throw patriarchy into the mix, along with state-wide corruption, lack of opportunity, lack of justice and a barely functional system of law and order and you have a recipe for online disaster mirroring our real world.

It is safe to say the worst is yet to come. Maya Khan can count her blessings. If her ‘vigilaunty’ TV episode were to come out today, the backlash would be far worse than just facing online abuse, job loss and public humiliation. The hatred against Malala that was almost entirely ramped up through social media could easily have materialised into another attack on her by some disturbed madman, this time cheered on and enabled by social media.

This is not guesswork or fiction here. Have we forgotten the hundreds of Mumtaz Qadri Facebook fan pages that cropped up after he gunned down Punjab Governor Salman Taseer? Have we overlooked the detailed investigation into what led IBA student Saad Aziz to kill Sabeen Mahmud? One part of his motivation was Sabeen’s pro-Valentine’s Day campaigns, just one of her many activities that led to unending social media campaigns framing her as ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Pakistan’.

Suffice to say the mob has found its way online, directing its anger at targets who misstep, actively fight or offend, or are chosen as targets by those who know how to direct rage from behind the scenes. All of us are culpable, yet somehow free of guilt, because our actions appear so insignificant. One like, one comment, one share, one read that activates Facebook’s algorithm. I am part of the mob, as are we all.

Jahanzaib Haque is Editor, at the Dawn Media Group.