The Fault in the Case Against AltNews Co-founder Mohammed Zubair for “Online Harassment” of Minor Girl

Social Commentary

The Fault in the Case Against AltNews Co-founder Mohammed Zubair for “Online Harassment” of Minor Girl

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Given the number of opinions flying around social media these days, it’s only natural that a few arguments break out on timelines, especially over political disagreements. One particular spat from last month, however, has now escalated into a police case, with two FIRs filed against Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews.

The police action was initiated following a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which accused Zubair of “threatening and torturing a girl child through Twitter”, The Indian Express reported.

It refers to a post from last month, in which Zubair had responded to an abusive tweet from Twitter user Jagdish Singh. In his post, the fact-checker reposted Singh’s profile picture, which featured a young girl, but with the face blurred out.

“Hello Jagdish Singh,” he had posted. “Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you change your profile pic.”

In response to the tweet, the NCPCR had written to the Delhi deputy commissioner of the police, as well as the cyber cell in August, and had accused Zubair of “stalking a minor girl on Twitter”, reports said. Two other handles had posted comments on the picture, earning them a place in the two FIRs filed in Delhi on Saturday.

Zubair, meanwhile, has countered the allegations, calling the FIR “absolutely frivolous”, and indicating that he was considering taking legal action against the commission.

The news of the two FIRs also created a mini storm on Twitter, with several prominent journalists and public figures taking umbrage, and tweeting with the hashtag “IStandWithZubair”.

Fellow co-founder of AltNews, Pratik Sinha released a statement on Twitter standing by his colleague, and alleging that the FIRs were an attempt to hound Zubair through the misuse of legal apparatus.

Several others alleged that it was the nature of Zubair’s work — as a fact checker — that made him a target in this case.

A few noted that despite us living in a country where it is a task to get the police to file an FIR in actual harassment cases, the two FIRs against a seemingly harmless tweet were filed with relative ease.

As the outrage continues online, however, the police will continue to investigate on the basis of the NCPCR complaint. With Twitter India officials already appearing before the commission, chances are that this controversy will not die down as quickly as it began.