Afghan Witness (AW), an online portal focused on human rights, has raised alarm bells over escalating cyber violence targeting Afghan women activists.
In a recent report, AW reveals a troubling increase in offensive online posts aimed at Afghan women, noting a threefold rise over the past two years.
The report, released on Monday, scrutinises around 78,000 posts in Farsi and Pashto languages on the X social media platform. These posts, related to 100 Afghan women activists, underscore a worrying trend of escalating online violence, particularly since the Taliban's ascent to power.
AW's analysis indicates that the majority of the abusive posts originate from low-ranking Taliban and pro-Taliban social media users, though users of other political and ethnic backgrounds are also implicated in such harassment. Francesca Gentile, the project's senior investigator, remarks that social media in Afghanistan has drastically shifted from a platform of social and political expression to one rife with abuse and suppression, especially targeting women.
Women activists, as per the report, face severe online harassment, including receiving pornographic messages and threats of sexual violence and death. One interviewee expressed the stigma attached to women's online presence, saying, "If you are an active woman and have a presence on social media, you are seen as a prostitute.”
The study also sheds light on the profound mental health impact of this online abuse. Many Afghan women, in response to the incessant harassment, have resorted to minimising their social media presence or self-censoring to mitigate backlash and derogatory comments.
Afghan Witness, operating under the umbrella of the Centre for Information Resilience, a UK-based non-profit, is dedicated to documenting human rights abuses, war crimes, and disinformation in regions like Afghanistan, Ukraine, Myanmar, and Sudan.