Pak­istan app aims to curb ha­rass­ment

The Phnom Penh Post - - BUSINESS -

A MO­BILE ap­pli­ca­tion de­signed to help women and marginalised groups in Pak­istan fac­ing on­line ha­rass­ment was launched on Wed­nes­day.

Dubbed “Muavin”, the ap­pli­ca­tion is avail­able on An­droid de­vices and seeks to ex­plore com­mu­nity-based so­lu­tions to on­line ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence and hate speech.

The ap­pli­ca­tion al­lows users to cre­ate groups of al­lies based on their Face­book and Twit­ter net­works, who can be alerted in case of ha­rass­ment or abuse on the In­ter­net.

Muavin was de­vel­oped by lo­cal NGOs Me­dia Mat­ters for Democ­racy (MMFD) and Code for Pak­istan.

At the launch, de­vel­op­ers claimed that the ap­pli­ca­tion seeks to ad­dress a key prob­lem within the dig­i­tal com­mu­nity: in­stances of on­line abuse and ha­rass­ment, tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties that have faced sim­i­lar hate and dis­crim­i­na­tion off­line. The app’s beta ver­sion is avail­able on the Google Play Store, an on­line dis­tri­bu­tion plat­form for smart­phone ap­pli­ca­tions.

The app’s de­vel­op­ers said al­lies cre­ated us­ing Muavin could add their voices in sup­port. Muavin also in­cludes dis­cus­sion fo­rums that can be used as com­mu­nity spa­ces to share and dis­cuss ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of on­line abuse and ha­rass­ment.

When asked about se­cure dis­cus­sions on Muavin, MMFD Pro­grams Di­rec­tor Sadaf Khan said the ver­sion launched on Wed­nes­day is a closed beta ver­sion with lim­ited users – who are Muavin mem­ber – and dis­cus­sions are vis­i­ble to group mem­bers. She said the en­cryp­tion stan­dards for dis­cus­sions are the same as Face­book’s.

When asked about data ac­cessed by and stored on Muavin from the afore­men­tioned so­cial net­works, Ms Khan said data is not stored on the app’s servers, and the mech­a­nism is the same as any other ap­pli­ca­tion in­te­grat­ing Face­book con­tacts. She said the app does not cre­ate a data­base of its own.

Ms Khan said that dur­ing their pi­lot test­ing phase, com­mu­nity guide­lines put for­ward asked users to alert Muavin re­gard­ing of­fen­sive be­hav­iour by mem­bers. She said a warn­ing would be is­sued to the user in ques­tion, fol­lowed by tem­po­rary sus­pen­sion and, in case of a third of­fence, they would be blocked from the app.

Omar Khan, one of the app de­vel­op­ers from Code for Pak­istan, said: “Muavin es­sen­tially aims to cre­ate a com­mu­nity that is well aware of the is­sue of on­line ha­rass­ment and is able to band to chal­lenge on­line trolls and abusers.”

The small gath­er­ing of so­cial ac­tivists at the launch was in­formed that while this is a global con­cern, on­line abuse is a com­mon prac­tice in Pak­istan.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency, more than 3,000 cy­ber­crime cases were re­ported in 2014-15, and 45per­cent of these were as­so­ci­ated with on­line ha­rass­ment of women.

“This is hope­fully go­ing to change be­cause users will be able to doc­u­ment in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence and re­port it to their on­line com­mu­nity,” said a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from a lo­cal NGO.

Swedish Am­bas­sador In­grid Jo­hans­son said at the launch that so­lu­tions are needed that en­able women and marginalised groups to add their voices and en­joy the full po­ten­tial of tech­nol­ogy.

A panel dis­cus­sion pre­ceded the launch, which fo­cused on in­creas­ing on­line ha­rass­ment of women and the po­ten­tial si­lenc­ing im­pact of on­line abuse. Speak­ers also high­lighted the need for women to find al­lies within their net­works and speak pub­li­cally in sup­port of each other.

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