Ever heard of the phrase “apni galli main kutta bhi sher”? Translated simply, it means even a dog can act like a lion on home ground. When you’re on familiar ground, you can pretend to be bigger and nastier than you would otherwise dare to be in real life. The internet is sadly awash with dogs pretending to roar, and they seem to be roaring the loudest right here in Pakistan. Anyone with a smartphone has anonymous access to cheap internet and so laptop or not, are thronging social media with their selfies and Farmville requests and ‘frandship’ attempts. They are also sharpening their troll skills. To the unaware, a troll is a person on the internet who intentionally harasses and abuses people online. An example is the people who post comments under this column, for example, informing me that I am a nasty old bag whom nobody will ever marry, and so forth. It is sensible to ignore a troll, who is the classic definition of a loser with too much time on his or her hands, but often a troll can turn dangerous. Particularly when it is someone you know, or used to trust.

Most of social media is geared towards younger people, adolescents. There are now all kinds of ways kids communicate with each other, from Whatsapp and Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and Vine. Predictably, because adolescents are both hormonal and not very forward thinking and because it is hard, if not nearly impossible, to monitor their phones and computer usage 24/7, they do foolish things. This has happened since the dawn of time, but the perils of adolescence are so much more treacherous now. When I was young there was only a landline that you could drag into your room, but now there is the internet, and whatever goes on there is there forever. And because of aforementioned apps, there are so many different ways to be vulnerable to a vengeful friend or ex if they decide to destroy you.

It is perhaps the qismat of all parents to be technologically one step behind their children, and so not be completely aware of what exactly is going on when your child is squinting at their phone screen.

A lot of desi parents don’t know and don’t care to find out either, and that is why there are so many stupid kids on Twitter, for example, casually telling people that they should be killed. This is no exaggeration—on the internet, death threats are handed out like free flyers at a stop sign, particularly if you are a woman. It could be your child, who otherwise might be a fairly decent child in real life, but an absolute horror online. But here is the thing: the internet is a real space. It is not some virtual Wild West where anyone can shoot their mouth off with no repercussions. And everyone using the internet should know this: if you harass someone online, if you threaten them, if you post content without their consent, you will get caught.

As always, most of the violence and harassment that exists online is directed towards women. They are routinely threatened with rape and death, told they are sluts or worse. The internet has become a free-for-all dogfest, with all the runts of the litter howling at the moon and feeling like lions, because they told a stranger that she better be careful next time she leaves the house. You can ignore some moron saying you are dumb or ugly, but not twenty. A stranger threatening you is a scarier story altogether because you don’t know which one is just talk, and who really means it.

All over the world, women are less and less safe, online or in real life. Look at all the celebrities whose phones are hacked and their private photos put online: how many were men? None. How many angry girlfriends have created entire websites dedicated to what is called revenge porn? None to my knowledge. How many men are being terrorised by their exes, terrified to tell their parents, being blackmailed for more revealing photos or worse? How many brothers are being stabbed by their sisters just for having a cell phone?

So what do you do if you’re in that position? Take heart, because you’re not alone. Heart Mob is an excellent website where you can report online harassment and talk to other people in your situation. They can also give you a security plan to follow. Closer to home is the Digital Rights Foundation, which has been working to further the cause of online safety for all. They have also spearheaded the Hamara Internet project. If you need help you can email them or tweet them, and people will reach out to you and provide support and guidance. The Federal Investigation Agency, the FIA, can also be contacted for lodging an official complaint against your harasser, who can then be brought in by the authorities. The important thing to remember is that the internet is a huge and scary place, but it is also a fantastic way to reach out to like-minded people, who can be voices of sanity and security in a difficult time. Don’t be afraid to speak up: the world is full of people who will pounce on every opportunity to bully, belittle and terrorise. Parents, step up. Monitoring your child’s screen time is vital—a lot of parents would be horrified if they knew what their kid was up to online. Don’t be that clueless parent. The only way we can reclaim safety and liberty for all is by pushing back, and saying not on my turf. No dog is going to try and be a lion in my lane.