The Network of Women in Media, India, on Thursday said the online vilification of journalist Rana Ayyub must be stopped, demanding that the Cyber Crime Cell of the Delhi Police take immediate steps to ensure her safety, “identify the source/s of the threats [against her] and take stringent action against them”.
In a statement, the group urged social media platforms such as Twitter to take steps to “distinguish parody accounts from the real ones” and “intervene when the platform is used for hate speech and threats of violence”.
On Sunday, a Twitter parody account with a handle nearly identical to that of news channel Republic TV put up a tweet with a fake quote attributed to Ayyub. The quote said: “Minor child rapists are also human, do they have no human rights. This Hindutva Government is bringing ordinance for death to child rapists just to hang muslims in larger numbers. Muslims aren’t safe in India anymore.” This tweet was shared widely across social media, forcing Ayyub to issue a clarification.
“The enormity of the fake news problem in India,” she said on Facebook with a screenshot of the tweet from the parody account. “Few have realised that it is a fake Twitter profile, and it is being shared on almost every third Facebook page/WhatsApp group. This is a virtual lynch mob!”
While this tweet and account have been deleted, other fake social media messages attributed to the journalist, as well as doctored videos, have cropped up, some with “exhortations to gang-rape ‘if she didn’t stop talking against Hindus and [Narendra] Modi’”.
“In an era of fake news, this concerted, malicious misrepresentation and open intimidation as well as incitement to violence has serious implications for Rana Ayyub and, indeed, all journalists,” the Network of Women in Media said. “It cannot but have a very real chilling effect on free speech and opinion. It is also in contravention of all laws in India concerning violence against women.”
The group also encouraged “right-thinking Indians who believe in the role and responsibility of media” to condemn such vilification of journalists and “politicians at the highest level, including the prime minister” to “rein in their followers who harass, abuse and threaten in their names”.
“The NWMI [Network of Women in Media] stands in solidarity with Rana Ayyub and all women journalists in their right to free expression,” the group said.