NEW DELHI, July 16 (IPS) – Continued online sexual harassment of Muslim women via ‘Sulli Deals,’ an auction app hosted by GitHub, has been reported to authorities, but not before causing untold trauma for the targeted women.
Cyber Cell registered the case in Delhi, India, despite GitHub shutting down the open-source app Sulli Deals. Sulli is a derogatory term often used by abusive right-wing trolls for Muslim women in India. Similar profiles and handles could previously be found on Twitter and YouTube. These platforms were used to harass Muslim women using a similar ‘Sulli Deals’ modus operandi to auction photos of the women. Sania Ahmed, a media professional, realized almost a year ago that her photos were being auctioned and changed online via ‘Sulli Deals’ on Twitter. Sania says she complained to Twitter about these handles, even trying to contact the police, but her complaints were ignored. “When I first found it online, a handle on Twitter offered Pakistani Muslim women. When I called it, that handle blocked me, but that incident was followed by horrible trolling, very graphic abuse and messaging. I was aware of this ecosystem of trolls and I had complained to Twitter but it had taken no action,” Ahmed told IPS in an exclusive interview. had gone ahead and made an entire app, and that they were bidding on Muslim women with it. “I’ve received rape threats, acid attacks and death threats. This was different because it wasn’t just about me anymore; there were so many other women involved. The fact that these men downloaded all our photos, imagine how much effort they put in,” Ahmed said. Farah Mizra (name changed due to security concerns), is another woman who found her photos on the ‘Sulli Deal’ app, she said in an interview with IPS. She was “in an absolute state of shock” for days when her friend told her the photos were being used as ‘Sulli Deal of the Day’. “I also found my friends’ photos on that app, and my first reaction was to immediately report it to GitHub. There were Twitter handles sharing screenshots of this app and tagging us, and I spent that night incessantly reporting all those handles auctioning us off.
Online harassment creates general security concerns. “Online sexual harassment doesn’t take much time to reach women offline. They have my photos. They have my name. They can easily get more information and details about me. I feel safe, not online or offline.
“These attacks are not random. The women are carefully chosen. We are all Muslim women. We have a voice and have spoken out about many policies of the BJP government,” Mizra said. According to this report from Plan International, “Free to be Online”, 58 percent of young women are harassed and abused online on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and TikTok. Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said in this piece: “In both high- and low-income countries, the report shows that girls are routinely exposed to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other disturbing forms of harassment and abuse. Attacks are most common on Facebook, where 39 percent have experienced harassment, followed by Instagram (23 percent), WhatsApp (14 percent) and Twitter (9 percent).