While social media bashing against journalists is not a new thing in Pakistan, it took on a different life this month.
On July 4, 2019, some politically affiliated Twitter accounts began sharing a composite photograph of 30 prominent senior journalists, with the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakistanJournalists.
The account holders alleged that the journalists in question were ‘members of the pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan media group’ and worked against the interests of the country, stoking hatred and in some cases, violence against the media.
Guys, grab your keyboards and start trednding #ArrestAntiPakJournalists
There are hundreds of Pakistani journalists/anchors who are members of the pro-Indian, anti-Pak media group.
They should be arrest. pic.twitter.com/z1Lt1ykpIJ
— Team #IK_Warriors (@Ik_Warriors) July 4, 2019
Soon a vast networks of accounts, believed to be fake accounts and human bots generated vigorous activity around the hashtag taking it to the top of the Twitter trends in Pakistan. A vicious campaign, it was marked by abusive language, unfounded allegations and calls for hanging the ‘traitor’ journos out rightly.
Hang the all anti state Journalist becoz they are real Badmash on the name of freedom.
— Muhammad Asim Mansha (@asimessi) July 5, 2019
Its time to punish Anti_Pakistan & Lifafa journalists enough is enough no one damaged our country’s image more thn these prostitutes of journalism. Only sacred cow left is our Pathetic & non professional media. #ArrestAntiPakJournalists#لفافوں_کو_بھی_اندر_کرو pic.twitter.com/GAIyl8NgDv
— Laraib Ali Magsi 🇵🇰 (@Laraib_Magsi) July 4, 2019
#ArrestAntiPakJournalists jasay jasay chor drug dealer arrest ho rhay hen
bhurway journalist expose ho rhay hen
journalist ki cheekhen suno
lanti pakistani media.
— ANGRY_CHOOZA_ (@CHOOZA10) July 4, 2019
The focus of the campaigns seemed to primarily revolve around two leading television anchorpersons, Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi, whose timelines were flooded with abuses and hateful remarks.
انشاءاللہ جلد حامد میر جعفر جیسے مکروہ لوگ غدار وطن جب کیفرکردار تک پہنچیں گے تو پاکستان ہر جنگ جیتے گا کتا مار مہم شروع ہے
— arshad malik (@arshadjaved1972) July 7, 2019
Imp: Our member @asmashirazi is under attack again & again. Our member @marvisirmed has also been serial-targeted. #Women #journalists are being targeted in #Pakistan indicating a dark time for #freepress in the country. What’s happening? Read statement-> https://t.co/fvvB7RB4AT
— #WomenInJournalism (@CfWiJ) July 7, 2019
Digital Rights Monitor (DRM) – a digital media watchdog sat down to investigate the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists and the results were eye-opening.
How DRM found the campaign to be engineered?
DRM made no secret of the fact that the campaign was engineered. It said hundreds of human-bots (fake accounts) and social media teams took part in the trend and most of them used ‘vile and hateful language.’ As per DRM, the hashtag gathered 57,200 interactions within 24 hours, however a closer look into the interactions revealed that only 10 percent of them were genuine tweets while a massive 87 percent were retweets and only 3 percent replies. The statistics are particular of an engineered campaign which lacks genuine interaction.
DRM’s further investigation unearthed that a single account @IK_Warrior, claiming to be the team lead of IK Warriors sent nearly 1200 tweets during the campaign. Unnatural for any genuine twitter user and another evidence of the campaign being engineered.
The watchdog said it dug deeper into the followers and retweeters of this account and revealed a beehive like structure, and a pattern of organized retweeting, which exposed a planned amplification of content.
DRM concluded in its report that the hashtag was artificially amplified through an organized network of more than 800 human-bots.
“It was clear that nearly 800 accounts were posting 6+ tweets, and a substantial majority of contributing accounts had 50 to 200 followers on twitter – two classic traits of human-bot accounts.” DRM report read.
The vile campaign against the journalistic fraternity was widely condemned by people from all walks of life. Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asif Ghafoor also cautioned against irresponsible and biased use of social media.
Irresponsible biased use of social media & vested negative trends can lead to misunderstandings / spats. Sweeping targeted statements or trends against any individual / profession/ institution are unethical. One such example is sweeping trend against journalists.#StayResponsible
— Asif Ghafoor (@peaceforchange) July 6, 2019
Who are anti-Pakistan journalists? and What is anti-Pakistan journalism? and who would arrest them and why? who will decide that who is anti-Pakistan and who is not? and who is running this#ArrestAntiPakJournalists hashtag?
— Shiraz Hassan (@ShirazHassan) July 4, 2019
عاصمہ شیرازی سمیت تمام وہ صحافی جنہیں سوشل میڈیا پر دھمکیوں، مغلظات اور ٹرولنگ کا سامنا ہے ان کا ایک ہی قصور ہے کہ وہ کسی بالادست کی ڈکٹیشن نہیں لیتے، کسی کے دباؤ میں آکر حق سچ کو توڑتے مروڑتے نہیں. ہم سب باشعور پاکستانی آپ کے ساتھ ہیں@asmashirazi @HamidMirPAK https://t.co/gR7mGjwajK
— Iffat Hasan Rizvi (@IffatHasanRizvi) July 6, 2019