Social media has fast become a vehicle for gaining justice. Causes highlighted by social media campaigns and movements have shaken up deep rooted traditions and entire governments. But with trendsetters and influencers acting as judge and jury, this new superimposed ‘justice’ system is highly problematic and far from just.
When Hassan Zaidi- Editor Magazines at Dawn News- faced continuous abuse by an individual on Twitter, his unprecedented response caused much uproar. The journalist Google searched the said individual and found that he worked as a Unit Head at Bank Alfalah. He then tweeted screenshots of the man’s LinkedIn profile and tagged the bank asking ‘Dear @BankAlfalahPAK, this man works for you? Is this the level of scum you employ?’
This tweet was retweeted over 1300 times and liked by more than 2600 people. It is important to mention that Mr. Zaidi has over 67,700 followers on Twitter and has openly admitted to knowing Bank Alfalah’s CEO Nauman Ansari on the social media platform. Consequently, taking notice of their employee’s abuse on social media the bank fired him. Should he have been fired, is a question I will delve into further down. The question we must begin with is: would he have been fired if the complaint had been made by any other average Twitter user?
The answer is simply no. A tweet by someone who did not possess Mr. Zaidi’s social media reach and personal connections would not have had the same effect. Abuse on social media is not acceptable. Actions (should) have (the appropriate) repercussions but justice cannot be personalized and doled out according to the popularity of the complainer. Social media is not a court of law. It cannot and should not be used for punishing crimes. If this practice is perceived as acceptable, we might as well just close down the courts, tear up the existing laws and throw them in the air? If legislation enacted by the parliament is made purposeless, anarchy will reign supreme.
Abusive behavior online is not permissible under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. Section 18 of the said Act criminalizes offences against dignity of natural person: ‘Whoever intentionally and publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any information through any information system, which he knows to be false, and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may be extended to three years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees.’
A system is in place to protect online users in Pakistan and we must follow it. Mr. Zaidi could have reported the man to the National Response Centre for Cyber Crime established under the Federal Investigation Agency. He could have also reported him on Twitter and blocked him. Reaching out to the man’s employer went beyond what was necessary; the man was fired. Although the Dawn journalist has clarified that he did not directly ask the bank to fire the man, Mr. Zaidi did insinuate he should be fired when he asked the bank: ‘Is this the level of scum you employ?’ And as if this was not enough, Mr. Zaidi even reached out to ICAP via Twitter since the man in question was a chartered account. Thankfully ICAP has not responded- yet.
While many on social media have appreciated the bank’s actions, many have also condemned it. #BoycottBankAlfalah quickly began trending on Twitter. People wrote letters to the bank asking their accounts to be closed if the employee was not reinstated. Bank Alfalah in their press release stated that ‘we have a zero-tolerance policy against personal attacks and use of offensive language…we adhere to a sever code of conduct and consider this incident a sever breach of the same…’ The filth their employee spewed was wrong and should have been punished by following due process. Freedom of expression does not equal freedom to abuse. But did the punishment fit the crime?
The man in question is now unlikely to be employed by any other bank. His language on social media impacted his entire career and hence his life. But is our presence on social media equivalent to our existence in the real world? At what point does the man in question stop being Alfalah’s employee? Does he still represent the bank when sipping tea in his own home? Hypothetically speaking, if tomorrow the man’s wife has an issue with him concerning abuse, should she also take it up with the bank?
When I was a child, my school used to take us on field trips from time to time- to the zoo or the beach. Before we would get on the bus dressed in our school uniforms, the teacher would remind us to be on our best behavior because we were representing the school. But when I went to the same beach on a different day with my family, the school I went to did not matter. It was of no concern to anyone. Social media has created quite a mess when it comes to our identities and social interactions.
Companies do have a right to create policies regarding conduct on social media, of which the employee should be made aware when he or she is hired. But those who condone such policies should measure themselves and their colleagues against the same standards. Mr. Hassan Zaidi himself has abused individuals numerous times on Twitter. Journalists such as Gul Bhukahri do so very frequently. The HR department of these media houses should then also be asked what kind of people they have hired. Consequently, many on Twitter are now demanding Dawn fire Hassan Zaidi.
But an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. People on Twitter often use foul language. How many will be fired? Perhaps Bank Alfalah’s actions will now make individuals rethink before they abuse others on social media. Alternatively, it may lead to people creating more fake profiles. The crux of the matter remains our intolerance and inability to disagree in a civil manner.