A mobile application designed to help women and marginalised groups facing online harassment was launched on Wednesday.
Titled 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 45pc 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.
Originally published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017