Why it's preposterous to accuse Alt-News co-founder Mohammad Zubair of 'online harassment of a minor girl'

Is sharing a blurred out image of a minor doxing or paedophilia? It may be in exceedingly poor taste, but calling it the same as "threatening and torturing a girl child" is perhaps just as problematic. And indeed, one has to wonder why the alacrity displayed here does not seem to be directed to all causes.

Last week, on Saturday, Priyank Kanoongo, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection Of Child Rights took to Twitter stating that an FIR had been lodged against several individuals for "threatening and torturing a girl child on Twitter". One of these, is fact-checking website Altnews’ co-founder Mohammad Zubair. Following this update, it was reported that the Delhi Police Cyber Cell and the Raipur Police have filed FIRs against him under sections of the IT Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The topic of controversy is a comment made by Zubair amid a Twitter spat with an user named Jagdish Singh. While the latter had abused the fact-checker, Zubair responded with a picture of Singh with another individual whose face was blurred out. "Hello Jagdish Singh, Does your cute granddaughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic (sic)," he had written.

And while this author would be the first to point out that this was completely unnecessary as well as being a personal attack that may have crossed the line of decency, the fact remains that this is not "doxing" or "paedophilia" or even a "threat" to the unknown child.

Additionally, it does not bode well for most of humankind if this is to be classified as stalking. You see, the picture used by Zubair had been Singh's profile picture at the time of their spat. As such, it was publicly available information.

For the vocabulary-challenged among us, doxing, as per the Cambridge Dictionary, is the act of "finding or publishing private information about someone on the internet without their permission, especially in a way that reveals their name, address, etc". And most would agree that a blurred out image of a person does not qualify, in spite of the news headlines screaming otherwise.

At best, Zubair's actions can be classified as "harassment" against Singh, as indeed the Raipur police had noted, but then again, the involvement of POCSO would indicate otherwise.

While one can argue that Zubair's influential position in the Twitterverse makes it necessary for him to exercise caution with his comments, one has to wish that this argument applied to other social media users, both blue-ticked and otherwise. As such, even morally speaking, it is debatable whether he can be held responsible for the actions of those who took a leaf out of his book to lash out at Singh.

But the social media invective has not limited itself to simply this development. While many seem to be competing with Zubair and Singh to create additional offensive comments to express their happiness with the development, others have taken to denigrating Zubair's fact-checking skills.

Ankur Singh, a Twitter user with more than 97,000 followers that include Union Ministers and politicians even put in the effort to create a lengthy list of "fake news spread by Zubair" to help people decide whether he is a "Congress IT Cell coolie". This in turn has been used by media organisations to create fresh stories, even as other social media users combine this with allegations of paedophilia and more.

Neither does the other side of the debate come out of this smelling like roses. While fellow co-founder Pratik Sinha had put out a statement in support of Zubair, other tweets by him attempt to look into the "vulgar mindset" of Jagdish Singh.

This character assassination by all involved - deserved or otherwise - does not serve any purpose beyond creating a poisonous atmosphere on the social media platform. And while this author remains confused as to how exactly this tweet makes Zubair guilty of offenses under POCSO, most do not seem to care, having moved beyond that to dissecting his fact-checking skills, his religion and more.

Anwesha Mitra is a Web Journalist with The Free Press Journal. All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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