From Rabi Peerzada to Aamir Liaquat, revenge porn is threatening lives

Should the use of social media be limited, in light of the socio-political context and inevitable lasting damage, it can confer?

Social media in the 21st century is a form of internet-based ‘mode of communication’ which comes with its own set of pros and cons and although is meant to aid in making everyday life easier, is essentially one of the biggest vices of the global community.

Since its inception in the last two decades, social media has resulted in a surge in bullying, and body shaming among other forms of prejudice, hatred and introduced the world to a pivotal term, “keyboard warrior” – including and not limited to the case of cyberbullying which comes in various shapes and forms from online stalking to passing derogatory remarks through the comfort of virtual anonymity or worse, leaking private and often confidential, mementos shared between two or more parties during the course of a private and/or official relationship.

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The recent case of Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain is a key example of such an instance. The late Television (TV) host and Member of the National Assembly (MNA), as well as former Minister of Religious Affairs, Dr. Liaquat Hussain prior to his passing on the 9th of June 2022, found himself a victim of a social media campaign.

The primary purpose behind the malignant propaganda being – to defame Hussain, through the release of personal pictures and videos, that painted him in a negative light. This then raises multiple questions, but before we delve into what those concerns may be, we must first understand what social media is.

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What is Social Media?

According to Tufts, social media refers to “the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks”.

Meanwhile, according to the University of South Florida, “social media can be a valuable addition” to communication when used properly as it allows users to hold “conversations, share information and create web content” which can range from blogs, microblogs, social networking websites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others; to video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and many others respectively.

Social Media Positives, what are they?

Every day, billions of people turn to social media to connect with their loved ones, friends, and colleagues.

On a personal level, social media helps people to engage with friends and family by way of sharing pictures and videos and conversing with each other despite the geopolitical distances.

On a professional level, it helps to connect people from all walks of life by way of networking to further a business and/or professional endeavor(s) such as for projects between organizations separated by larger distances. Or simply, to grow as a professional, in any industry.

Likewise, it allows the opportunity to connect with colleagues to essentially meet virtually and/or share memos electronically without delay within an office, business, or organization. However, given the nature of things available on social media, it can have a significant effect on the mental capabilities of an individual if it is adversely used.

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Social Media Negatives, what are they?

In the last decade alone, social media has played a pivotal role in propaganda campaigns and defamation cases against many renowned personalities. A potent example is Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp who was recently declared victorious in a lawsuit against his former wife, Amber Heard. Another example is Pakistani singer-songwriter, Ali Zafar, who was accused of harassing former friend and colleague Meesha Shafi and was extensively maligned on social media with users playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner at the same time.

This is why one must understand the complexity of a social media presence and fully comprehend its drawbacks before indulging in any social media trends and/or movements. So what are some of the adverse effects of social media?

Based on official statistics, up to 3.6 billion (roughly 3,600,000,000) people were active on social media in 2020 alone, with an expected increase of up to approximately 4.41 billion (roughly 4,410,000,000) by 2025. Such an alarming increase then demands knowledge of the cons that social media brings with it so that we can make better choices.

Some well-known problems that arise due to the constant or increased use of social media include the following:

  • Lack of differentiation between an online presence and reality.
  • Increased usage may lead to social anxiety; depression, self-depreciation and/or self-doubt, exposure to content that is not age-appropriate, and even cyberbullying.
  • Getting addicted to social media.
  • The feeling of constantly seeking validation from the online community in the form of likes, comments, and shares.

Subconsciously, considering it a positive, an affirmation, in the case of a like.

  • Fear of being left out, also known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This can lead to a user repeatedly checking social media platforms at regular intervals.

Other drawbacks may include feeling a lack of emotional connection, allowing people the opportunity to be hateful (a reference to keyboard warriors), inability to communicate face-to-face, and lack of focus, respectively.

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How does it tie in with Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain and his Sudden Death?

To understand this, one must first study his background and why he was targeted in a social media campaign.

As mentioned above, since the late 90s and early 2000s, Dr. Liaquat Hussain was known as a “polarizing talk show host”. He was known for intermixing religious content with entertainment and was often embroiled in controversy for doing so.

In the last decade, Dr. Liaquat Hussain had shifted his focus from television to politics by joining first the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and then the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) led by the party Chairman, Imran Khan. This had allowed Hussain the opportunity of holding a position as an MNA between the years 2018 to 2022.

Apart from his professional and political presence, Dr. Liaquat Hussain had been a central figure in the Pakistan media due to the nature of his personal life. Most recently, for his third marriage, to eighteen-year-old Dania Shah, whom he married in early 2022. The news of their marriage was shared by Hussain on the social networking website, Twitter.

From his first marriage to Syeda Bushra Bibi, also a TV personality post-divorce in 2020, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain shared two children, Dua Aamir and Ahmed Aamir. However, he had no children from his second marriage with Syeda Tooba Anwer, whom he married in 2018 and divorced sometime between, 2021-2022.

Both of Hussain’s divorces, and marriages, garnered much media attention. Following his divorce from Bushra Bibi, his children became estranged from him having claimed that Syeda Tuba Anwer had pushed Hussain to divorce their mother. Till his death in June, they had remained distant from their father, as per the media coverage surrounding Dr. Liaquat Hussain.

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What is the Link between Liaquat’s Third Marriage and the Social Media Campaign?

Although his second marriage also failed, Aamir Hussain married for the third time and announced the news in 2022 via social media. Since then, netizens took to social media to belittle the public figure. From criticizing his decision to marry a third time to nitpicking on his relationship with an eighteen-year-old, to using hateful language for having divorced his first and second wives, respectively, social media users engaged in the narrative that Hussain’s third marriage is doomed to fail while poking fun through memes and other demeaning jokes.

According to starsunfolded.com, some of the better-known controversies concerning Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain include his inciting violence against the Ahmedi community. The website argues that as early as 2014, Dr. Liaquat Hussain had used his position on a television channel to declare “Ahmedis as enemies of Islam”. Although Hussain did not make the statement himself, the footage shows him nodding his head in agreement as the audience cheered.

Referencing the killing of Luqman Ahmed Shehzad, the website argued that Hussain’s show had led to the Ahmedi man being killed, adding that it was the second case of a similar nature – advocating religious intolerance (starsunfolded.com).

The website further references the time when Hussain alleged that the Pakistan team lost the match because the cricket team was being “disrespectful” and that the players were “being divinely chastised” as a consequence of using green shoes as part of their uniforms which was a nod to Pakistan’s flag and consequently, to the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). However, Hussain had been heavily criticized for his remarks at the time.

Similarly, in 2011, a compilation video was released showing behind-the-scenes (BTS) footage of Hussain being crass and poking fun at a “rape-related topic” and his religious guests.

Nonetheless, the most damaging was when Hussain’s degree from Trinity College and University was declared to be “fraudulent” by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in 2016. It is pertinent to note that the British daily The Guardian had reportedly declared the institute to be a fraud as early as 2003.

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Yet, nothing could have prepared him for the damage that his third marriage would confer on him and his mental health.

At the start of the year, when Dr. Hussain announced the news of his latest nuptials, the public was also graced with small tidbits of the married couple’s intimate moments with Hussain, 50, and Dania Shah, 18, presenting an image of a normal (non-famous) married couple. They exchanged shy smiles, and sweet gestures, painting a perfect image of a newly married happy couple.

During an interview, Shah stated, “I didn’t think he was real. To meet someone you have idealized since you were a kid, someone you have been obsessed with and he just appears in front of you; how would you feel?”

However, as Dania Shah continued to gain traction, things behind the camera started going downhill. Barely months into their marriage, reports came that Dania Shah is seeking to be legally separated from Hussain because he is abusive, and indulges in “indecent” activities such as consuming alcohol.

Although the sudden move came as a shock, the public was quick to notice that Shah had changed her stance from the previously issued statements. While, in February as a newly wedded bride, she had sung praises of her husband and referred to him as a “childhood crush”, now Shah was alleging Hussain was a devil in the disguise of an angel.

During this time, statements were also issued by Shah’s mother and other close family members who claimed that Dania Shah no longer wishes to remain married to Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain and plans to file for divorce. According to Arab News, Shah had gone as far as to allege that the former MNA was used to “inflicting violence on her and using drugs and alcohol regularly during their brief relationship”.

Likewise, Baaghi TV had reported, “Dania Shah has accused TV anchor Aamir Liaquat of forcing her to make inappropriate videos with ‘stranger men’.”

Shah went on to file a case in Bahawalpur Family Court for annulment of marriage with Aamir Liaquat, in which she took the stand that Dr. Hussain was “addicted to ice”. She had further alleged, “He also made videos and blackmailed me”.

Following the claims by Shah, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain had vehemently denied the allegations but the damage had been done. The rumor mill had been activated and the case was being extensively discussed everywhere. Questions had been raised pertaining to Dr. Hussain’s credence as a religious figure, which eventually led to Hussain’s decision to leave Pakistan “permanently”.

At the time, disturbing videos had surfaced on the internet, all over social media platforms, “exposing” Aamir Liaquat in response to which, he had tweeted that no outsider is the villain rather it is one’s own family who is the enemy. He went on to say that his wife having tarnished the sacred nature of marriage has also resorted to assassinating his character.

In another tweet, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain wrote, “Everyone is asking, what is your position on the nude video? My answer is this, those who were supposed to maintain the respect and those who posted the video should be arrested, what was their motive and why hasn’t the honorable justice system taken notice? Is the FIA Cybercrime free from accountability?”

However, after weeks of throwing shade at each other, and the ensuing social media campaign against him, Dr. Aamir Hussain announced that he was planning to leave Pakistan for good. Shortly after, news of his death surfaced in the wake of which Hussain’s nephew, Hamid, said that he had recently been “depressed due to a social media campaign against him.”

“He had planned to leave the country and despite passing through trauma due to a negative campaign against him on social media, he was well,” Hamid added.

His death, according to initial reports, had been caused by generator smoke that led to asphyxiation. Despite the police officials insisting on a post-mortem report, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain was laid to rest in the compound of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Clifton on Friday.

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Inevitable property dispute – woes of widowhood

As expected, given the nature of the very public dispute between the now-deceased Dr. Liaquat Hussain and his wife, Dania Shah – claims were made over rights to property. Following the confirmation of Liaquat’s death, a statement was issued by Shah’s mother clarifying that the annulment had not been legalized and that the parties were in the process of getting back together. Shah’s mother had alleged that her deceased son-in-law had sent a message of reconciliation and because the marriage had yet to be annulled, Shah is not a divorcee but a widow.

Leading to speculation that the ‘reconciliation’ was a ruse for claims to property. In the days that have since followed, Dania Shah and her family are engaged in a tussle for rights to property with Dr. Liaquat Hussain’s first wife and two children.

Moving Forward: What does Pakistani law say?

As rightfully pointed out by the late MNA’s nephew, Hamid, and senior Pakistani investigative journalist Mubasher Lucman, Dr. Hussain had been severely depressed and heartbroken in the last few weeks of his life. This change as argued above was also evident from his tweets on social media – from once, a boisterous and full-of-life man, Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain was merely an empty vessel, lacking the spirit to live.

The unjustified leaking of private footage on social media had left him devastated and hollow. However, government departments tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the self-respect and security of the public on social media, namely the FIA (Federal Investigative Agency)’s cybercrime wing did not take any action. Why?

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “Online defamation in Pakistan now punishable by five years in prison”.

According to Arab News reports, the new ordinance which was introduced as an amendment to section 20 of PECA 2016, “increases the jail term for defaming any person or institution on social media from two to five years and makes it mandatory for courts to decide cases within six months. The offense has also been made non-bailable”.

Meanwhile, according to legal firm Khan & Co., “defamation constitutes a criminal act under the Defamation Ordinance 2002 (as amended)”. According to this, the “publication of defamatory matter is an actionable wrong without proof of special damage to the person defamed”. Whether it be libel and/or slander, “Breaching the law incurs compensatory damages not less than 300,000 Rupees for the plaintiff (claimant)”.

According to Khan and Co., as per the Ordinance, “no action for defamation will lie unless the plaintiff, within two months after the publication of the defamatory matter, gives a 14-day written notice to the defendant from the date of knowledge of the publication”.

Likewise, Zafar & Associates – LLP states that according to law, “defamation [is] a statement that injures a third party’s reputation”. They elaborate that according to Pakistani law, “Defamation is to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or to excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions against the affected person.”

Addressing the issue of falsity, Zafar & Associates claim, “The law is that if the matter is defamatory falsity is presumed until it is proved to be true”.

Defamation Ordinance 2002 covers all matters pertaining to defamation accrued in Pakistan. For a detailed understanding of the Ordinance, visit Khan & Co. or Zafar & Associates, respectively.

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What is the role of the FIA?

The FIA or the Federal Investigation Agency “is a border control, criminal investigation, counter-intelligence and security agency under the control of the Interior Secretary of Pakistan, tasked with investigative jurisdiction on undertaking operations against terrorism, espionage, federal crimes, smuggling as well as infringement and other specific crimes”.

The FIA Cyber Crime Wing (CCW), functions under the prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 and deals with cybercrimes. It is the only “only unit of its kind in Pakistan” because it directly received complaints and takes action. According to the FIA, the “CCW has expertise in Digital Forensics, Technical Investigation, Information System Security Audits, Penetration Testing and Trainings. The unit since its inception has been involved in capacity building of different government departments”.

Despite being tasked with the responsibility to take action against cybercrimes, the FIA failed to play its pivotal role in the social media campaign against Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain. Perhaps, this negligence was due on part of Dr. Hussain himself, who may not have filed an official complaint against the perpetrators behind the leaked personal videos.

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In conclusion, it is pertinent to understand that the rising culture of leaking personal data through social media is not just a moral low and a show of cultural deterioration in the country but it is a crime under Pakistan law. Above all else, it is a personal low for a person to resort to such dirty tactics. We must as individuals and as a society learn to move on – there is no point in dwelling on the past or resorting to below-the-belt tactics. If we hope to prosper as a state, we must shift our focus from the trivialities of breakups to the hope of a fulfilling future. Lest we be the cause of mental and/or physical duress to another human being.

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