Cyber Harassment Survivor’s Kit – SURVIVOR STORIES
The scariest space I have ever been- Part II
What is going on? Why is this happening to me?
As she swipes her phone screen to reveal the next slide, a great wave of confusion, disbelief and panic start to sink into her. She gasps for air as she listens to the pounding beat of her heart while she reads every word that has been written about her on the screen.
“At last, we are able to identify who Minah Fatimah, a Facebook user, who has been smearing and tarnishing the name of our Allah Almighty on social media is. After weeks of searching and praying for guidance from Allah, Alhamdullilah, we are able to successfully pin down Farya binti Yunus, a 24 year-old born Muslimah, as the person behind Minah Fatimah.
For those who are unaware of the evil deeds of this “murtad”, she has often made blasphemous comments freely and deliberately on Facebook, in particular, at a closed online group which teaches and propagates atheism. What is a Muslimah doing in that group, you wonder? A “murtad” no less. To add salt to injury, she has publicly declared that if Allah exists, He would have pigs as His favoured animal for they are intelligent, clean and loyal, which make them more worthy than all the Muslims she knows in the world.
My fellow Brothers and Sisters in Islam, this is but only a few insulting words she has said about us.
As defenders of Islam, we urge all Muslim who reads this, to remember the face of this “murtad” woman called Farya binti Yunus, and do whatever you have to do to teach her a lesson that Islam shall not be challenged and Allah will see to it that she pays dearly for this.
You have her private details. You know what to do with them.
Speechless, she leans back in a daze on her bed for what seems like an eternity before more beeps on her phone break the silence of the morning hour. Reluctantly, she opens Fairuz’s messages and begins to piece together what has happened over the last week and how it is suddenly changing her life, unexpectedly and without warning.
Mistaken identity, hacking and witch-hunting
Three days ago, Fairuz has been up all night. He struggles to finish his 1500-word essay on the implication of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In his usual procrastinating fashion, he has been looking at some of his friends’ Facebook feed and intermittently posting a comment here and there on several private groups he has joined. In the group on atheism and agnosticism, he suddenly discovers that Minah Fatimah’s comments have disappeared completely from the group’s conversation thread. He scrolls all the way up to what must have been weeks’ worth of conversation in the group and sure enough, all Minah Fatimah’s comments have been removed, along with any trace of her username.
At that precise moment of his discovery, someone on the group posts a comment, “Hey, what happened to Minah Fatimah’s comments? It seems like she has left the group.”
Another member replies, “You think? Maybe she got kicked out by Facebook.”
Fairuz quickly types, “Whatever it is, good riddance! LOL.”
In the subsequent days that follow, all the group could talk about is the mysterious disappearance of Minah Fatimah. Various speculations have been made but many seem to end up agreeing to one claim that Minah Fatimah is most likely an anti-Islamic middle-age Chinese man, with a penchant for stirring shit among the Muslim community while dealing with the frustrations and resentment of unemployment, obesity and receding hairline. This version retains its popularity until one user begins to notice Farya’s short but also persistent comments in places where Minah Fatimah’s comments have previously been. Now with all of Minah Fatimah’s comments gone, Farya’s become visible and look almost as if she was carrying a conversation with Yazid directly.
In the string of WhatsApp messages Fairuz has sent to Farya on that early Sunday morning, he explains that words have leaked out on the group that she is the person disguised as Minah Fatimah. According to him, in addition to the blog post that Sandra has shared with her, a Facebook page that has been created to “lynch” her has gone viral. Fairuz suspects that her email account must have been hacked by Pejuang Harimau, a well-known hacker among the online Malay community, where her private information must have been illegally obtained.
For almost one month, Farya finds herself living in constant fear. If hell indeed does exist, this must be it, she thinks. What has she done to deserve the countless death and rape threats from strangers on her phone and Facebook account?
“I feel the world has become so dark and I am drowning in sadness.”
“Some wanted to rape me. Some wanted to kill me slowly until I die a horrible death.”
“Some called me a whore and animal names.”
“Some even said I was born because my Mother had sex with a dog.”
“What was my crime to receive such hate?”
These are the thoughts that come to Farya’s mind during that very dark episode of her life.
Support comes in unexpected ways
Farya recalls the obstacles she has to go through when reporting the incident to various authorities such as the Malaysian Commission on Multimedia and Communications (MCMC), police and Facebook. She is told by MCMC that the commission has no power to prosecute and that she has to lodge a report with the police.
At the police station, she is told, “For us to take these threats seriously and to commence an investigation, the threats must be specific. Specific means, if someone says he is going to kill you, he needs to state when and where. So for instance – I am going to kill you tomorrow while you are sleeping in your room at (whatever address you live in). Faham?”
None of her report to Facebook is ever met with a response or action although she has always suspected that Minah Fatimah’s account may have been deleted by Facebook after many members of the online group eventually confess to reporting her abuses to Facebook. This could possibly be the reason why the username and comments are removed abruptly.
Although she suffers the indignity of explaining her situation to her employer, Mr. Fernandez, who has called her into his office the day after the incident occurs, she says that the most unexpected support has come from him. According to Mr. Fernandez, he learned about the incident after his son asked him whether he has an employee named Farya binti Yunus, who has been announced as public enemy number one on Facebook by a group called Pejuang Harimau, notoriously known for their regular online exposé of those they considered as murtad or apostate.
“I am a discrete man and I avoid any political scandal at all cost, professionally as well as privately. I expect that from my staff as well. I am concerned that what’s happening to you may change that. However, I see now that you are a victim and I can imagine the trauma you are going through now. Take a week off to sort out what you need to do, and I’ll make sure no one speaks of this, in other words, gossips about it in this office. The last thing you need is to be reminded of it at work,” says Mr. Fernandez and proceeds to wave her out of his office so she can attend to her distracted mind immediately.
Until today, she has not forgotten how Mr. Fernandez’s support has given her the much needed relief and escape at work.
It never leaves you and you just change as a person
“Once your freedom has been robbed, it changes you as a person,” Farya explains to a reporter at an interview where she is asked to name the biggest impact the incident has on her since it happened two years ago.
She says that although she has not suffered any physical harm, she lives in constant fear for at least the first six months. Since none of the authorities could do anything to take down the blog post and Facebook page, and to hold Pejuang Harimau accountable for making false accusations and thus inciting so much hatred against her online, she feels exposed, insecure and unprotected.
“For at least six months, not a day went by without me checking in with my Mother to tell her that I am ok. That I am still alive. I was convinced that someone, some day, will throw acid on my face while I was walking on the street to work. Many people knew where I work, you see,” Farya recalls.
It has been more than two years and Farya says that while she no longer fears for her life, (only because she refuses to let fear cripples her), she has learned to self-censor when she is online. Dejected, she says, “I used to think the Internet is a space where I can express, share, learn and grow as a human being. I was so wrong. It is the scariest space I have ever been.”
*Inspired by a real survivor’s account