The recent case of harassment at Minar-e-Pakistan urges us to reflect on fake news and to recognise the culture of victim-blaming –the two big evils among us.
On 14 August, a day of celebrating independence, a woman faced assault and harassment by a crowd of 400 men at Lahore’s Greater Iqbal Park. As the videos of her disturbing assault went viral three days later, people on social media reacted with anger and disgust while demanding justice for the victim.
Currently, the case is under investigation as dozens of suspects have been detained via identification with the help of footage of the assault. However, things took a different turn once the whole case of the assault shifted towards judging the character and ‘morals’ of the victim.
Daily Pakistan released an interview with the victim, presenting Iqrar ul Hassan sitting with Ayesha, discussing her traumatic harassment. Rather than this interview becoming an evidence of her bravery and courage to come out in public and seek justice, the conversation focused on her TikTok account and character instead.
Social Media and the power of Fake News
After the interview, social media witnessed a flow of conspiracy theories and fake news regarding the incident claiming it was faked and staged by the victim for the sake of getting fame and more viewers.
An Instagram account called ‘The Pakistan Frontier’ shared news claiming this incident was fake without any proof or verification. This encouraged the spread of false rumors, providing a soft image to those who actually committed the crime like they were “being asked or called in to do so” while singling out victim for blame.
Many people shared their detest for this statement and abuse of journalism, just for engagements and likes. Unfortunately, this is picked up as a trend with various people trying to prove the incident as “fake”.
These incidents shed light on the power social media possesses and how viral misinformation and fake news can change the narrative of the crime. The investigation into the Minar-e-Pakistan harassment confirms forensic evidence of her assault, and authorities have released no such statement that supports such “fake news”.
Thus, this vicious cycle of promoting unauthentic news has a destructive impact on crimes and their victims. The only thing this news did was give more power to the 400 men, and demoralize the single victim trying to label her traumatic assault fake. Rather than holding the culprits accountable, social media is heavily focused on entertaining conspiracies, rather than reading about the investigation and its facts.
In the modern era, fake news is a dangerous problem that can influence minds and opinions. Thus, it is important to teach and be aware of authentic news and not spread propaganda.
The Victim Blaming Cycle
This incident also further amplifies our need to look at victim-blaming culture and hold culprits accountable for their actions. The victim of this harassment has been blamed for 400 men attacking her due to her TikTok account, clothing, and audacity to leave her house to join a male-dominated public place.
Not only the masses but celebrities such as Waqar Zaka are contributing to the cycle by using his mass influence to question the victim, rather than the harassers.
Although, he first supported the victim but later his tweet suggested he was questioning its authenticity even though authorities confirmed it happened.
The cycle of victim-blaming will continue to tarnish the progress towards justice. With each case of violence against women\, it always becomes a discussion to profile the women as ‘pure’ or deserving of the crime. As long as this culture is not changed, victims will be hesitant to get justice, and the culprits will consider them powerful.
In the end, the astounding number of 300-400 men harassing a single woman for hours is a terrifying thought, yet it happened. The only reason is that they felt powerful enough to do so and their right to assault a woman in public. The escape from consequences will lead to even bigger mobs and more crimes against women where the like-minded men will feel they can have a chance to get away with anything if the public image of their target gets manipulated.
This article is submitted by Izma Azeem Chughtai.