The Malayalam-speaking group of predominantly male members says that it aims to protect Indians online, especially Malayalee women, by hacking into pages where explicit images and content related to sexuality are shared.
They describe their activities on their group page, saying that they seek to ‘expose’ people and preserve the ‘honor’ of Malayalee women. They claim to have hacked Pakistan websites and to protect Indian soldiers. They also claim to have to brought down revenge porn groups on Facebook. It is not clear precisely what technical methods they use to gain access to these pages.
One such post on their group page addresses Malayalee women:
You might be speaking out for your freedom, but you are forgetting certain things. We know you don’t like advice. We are not against you speaking or loving, but amidst all this, you are forgetting certain things
When you sent your pictures or video of you to your partner or lover, you are cheating yourself and also your father and mother, your siblings. You are destroying your family honor and pushing your family to suicide.”
A university economics student, Ishika was targeted by the group after she sent a message to several friends in an effort to collect data for a gender survey.
Ishika, who spoke with Global Voices about the incident, suspects that members of the group were somehow informed of her survey and that they considered it inappropriate, classifying it as a “sex chat.” This is visible in the transliteration of their response, otherwise in Malyalam, shown in the screenshot below. Ishika earlier had posted a picture of sanitary napkins, which the group also found problematic.
A member of the group told Ishika to stop publishing feminist posts and threatened to “slut shame” her and expose her nude pictures online if she did not comply with the demands of the Kerala Cyber Warriors.
Members of the group told her that women like her were “a blot to the Malayalam community” and that her activities were destroying the reputations of other young women. They also demanded that she send them her login credentials so that they could delete the posts themselves. She refused.
A member of the Facebook group then started to chat with Ishika, threatening to expose her if she did not comply with their requests within one day.
Ishika soon after published a Facebook post addressing the issue directly. She explained that she did not need their “protection” and she had no intention to remove any of her posts.
I asked them multiple times (what the issue was). The ‘saviors’ revealed that I have been posting about female sexuality, menstruation, along with pictures of sanitary pads, etc which according to them are are dishonoring women.
“‘Respected’ Kerala Cyber Warriors, Thank you for your services. But I don’t need them and leave me alone and my posts.”
After Ishika published the above post, she encountered a fresh wave of trolling attacks, phishing attempts and sexual harassment online, with multiple accounts associated with the Kerala Cyber Warriors attacking her for speaking out against them.
Ishika tried to reason with them for two days and finally wrote a complaint to Facebook, using their abuse reporting process. The US-based company explicitly forbids bullying and harassment, but does not punish harassers unless victims submit reports of harassment through their official process.
Facebook’s “Community Standards” policy on the matter reads as follows:
We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them. This content includes, but is not limited to:
- Pages that identify and shame private individuals,
- Images altered to degrade private individuals,
- Photos or videos of physical bullying posted to shame the victim,
- Sharing personal information to blackmail or harass people, and
- Repeatedly targeting other people with unwanted friend requests or messages.
Ishika has yet to hear back from Facebook on her complaint. Allies have also reported the Kerala Cyber Warriors group to Facebook, concerning their allegations of hacking other peoples’ accounts, which is also a violation of Facebook’s terms.
“Women be careful, the group is there to set standards on how women should behave, or they threaten to put up your nude pictures.”
Gayathri Narayanan, who is a woman psychotherapist wrote sarcastically:
“Big Deal. It is unpardonable women should write about gender equality. Why we need gender equality? Women should only be writing about parenting and pregnancy. These other radical women, who demand rights on their body, you should really teach them a lesson. Please keep on doing so, so that, when these women write back to you, some others will get more guidance through those replies at least.”
Despite Facebook’s proclaimed and actual efforts to curb gender-based harassment on their platform, threats of character assassination and extortion continue apace around the world, and in many countries where such threats can carry severe real-life consequences.