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‘Kerala Cyber Warriors’ threaten Malayalee women’s freedom of speech on Facebook

‘Kerala Cyber Warriors’ threaten Malayalee women’s freedom of speech on Facebook

By Inji Pennu

Isha Ishika, a university student in the southern Indian state of Kerala, was threatened a few days ago by members of a Facebook group called Kerala Cyber Warriors.

The Malayalam-speaking group of predominantly male members says that it aims to protect Indians online, especially Malayalee women, by hacking into pages where explicit images and content related to sexuality are shared.

They describe their activities on their group page, saying that they seek to ‘expose’ people and preserve the ‘honor’ of Malayalee women. They claim to have hackedPakistan websites and to protect Indian soldiers. They also claim to have to bring down revenge porn groups on Facebook. It is not clear precisely what technical methods they use to gain access to these pages.

One such post on their group page addresses Malayalee women:

1. Translation

2. Original Quote

Dear sisters,

You might be speaking out for your freedom, but you are forgetting certain things. We know you don’t like advice. We are not against you speaking or loving, but amidst all this, you are forgetting certain things.

When you sent your pictures or video of you to your partner or lover, you are cheating yourself and also your father and mother, your siblings. You are destroying your family honour and pushing your family to suicide.

A University economics student, Ishika was targeted by the group after she sent a message to several friends in an effort to collect data for a gender survey.

Ishika, who spoke with Global Voices about the incident, suspects that members of the group were somehow informed of her survey and that they considered it inappropriate, classifying it as a “sex chat.” This is visible in the transliteration of their response, otherwise in Malayalam, shown in the screenshot below. Ishika earlier had posted a picture of sanitary napkins, which the group also found problematic.

Screen shot of Ishika’s request and subsequent fallout. Her initial message reads: “We are gathering information on Gender Studies for an article, please provide with inputs if you have any. ” | Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

A member of the group told Ishika to stop publishing feminist posts and threatened to “slut shame” her and expose her nude pictures online if she did not comply with the demands of the Kerala Cyber Warriors.

Members of the group told her that women like her were  “a blow to the Malayalam community” and that her activities were destroying the reputations of other young women. They also demanded that she send them her login credentials so that they could delete the posts themselves. She refused.

A member of the Facebook group then started to chat with Ishika, threatening to expose her if she did not comply with their requests within one day.

Ishika soon after published a Facebook post addressing the issue directly. She explained that she did not need their “protection” and she had no intention to remove any of her posts.

Translation

Original Quote

I asked them multiple times (what the issue was). The ‘saviors’ revealed that I have been posting about female sexuality, menstruation, along with pictures of sanitary pads, etc which according to them are are dishonouring women.

‘Respected’ Kerala Cyber Warriors, Thank you for your services. But I don’t need them and leave me alone and my posts.

After Ishika published the above post, she encountered a fresh wave of trolling attacks, phishing attempts and sexual harassment online, with multiple accounts associated with the Kerala Cyber Warriors attacking her for speaking out against them.

Ishika tried to reason with them for two days and finally wrote a complaint to Facebook, using their abuse reporting process. The US-based company explicitly forbids bullying and harassment but does not punish harassers unless victims submit reports of harassment through their official process.

Facebook’s “Community Standards” policy on the matter reads as follows:

We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them. This content includes, but is not limited to:

1. Pages that identify and shame private individuals,

2. Images altered to degrade private individuals,

3. Photos or videos of physical bullying posted to shame the victim,

4. Sharing personal information to blackmail or harass people, and

5. Repeatedly targeting other people with unwanted friend requests or messages.

Ishika has yet to hear back from Facebook on her complaint. Allies have also reported the Kerala Cyber Warriors group to Facebook, concerning their allegations of hacking other peoples’ accounts, which is also a violation of Facebook’s terms.

There has also been fallout from the incident on Facebook itself. Sona Nakshathra, who is a woman journalist mocked the group on Facebook:

Translation

Original Quote

Women be careful, the group is there to set standards on how women should behave, or they threaten to put up your nude pictures

Gayathri Narayanan, who is a woman psychotherapist wrote sarcastically:

Translation

Original Quote

Big Deal. It is unpardonable women should write about gender equality. Why we need gender equality? Women should only be writing about parenting and pregnancy. These other radical women, who demand rights on their body, you should really teach them a lesson. Please keep on doing so, so that, when these women write back to you, some others will get more guidance through those replies at least.

Despite Facebook’s proclaimed and actual efforts to curb gender-based harassment on their platform, threats of character assassination and extortion continue apace around the world, and in many countries where such threats can carry severe real-life consequences.


The author is from Kerala, India. Blogging in English and Malayalam since 2006. Lives short periods of time in India and long periods in U.S as part of work. Freelances for local dailies. Indulges in issues regarding women’s rights, subaltern studies, travel, food.

This article was previously published in Global Voices.

Featured Image Courtesy: ramesh_lalwani via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

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