An independent journalist known for being critical of India’s ruling party says that her life has been left in shambles after a fake tweet helped inspire countless social media users to begin harassing her. Speaking with the BBC’s Ayeshea Perera, Rana Ayyub said that she has faced numerous attacks on her character and credibility for her unflinching writing on Indian politics, but that she never could have imagined the vitriol that would be unleashed after someone Photoshopped one of her tweets so that it read: “I hate India and Indians.” After the doctored image went viral in India, Ayyub said she began receiving death and rape threats. But the worst, she explained, had yet to come.
“Before I knew it, it had been shared [everywhere],” she recalled. “Everybody was sending me retweets, like ‘I want to rape you’ … I was only just coming to terms with it when a friend sent me this message saying, ‘I’m going to send you something and I don’t want you to be upset.’ He sent me a video, and it was a … pornographic video with my image [Photoshopped] onto it. It was circulating everywhere … There were screenshots of this video on everybody’s phone. This naked body with my image on it was my new reality.”
Soon after that, another fraudulent screenshot of Ayyub’s Twitter account went viral — this time with a message that read, “I am available,” along with the journalist’s phone number and address.
“After that people started sending me [pictures] of their naked bodies and asking me to service them. And people started asking me for my ‘rates’ and saying, ‘You are better off as a prostitute, what are you doing as a journalist?’” Ayyub said.
“The last few weeks I think I’ve witnessed hell,” she continued. “Every morning I wake up and I see this stream of tweets with screenshots of pornography with my image on it. It’s been overwhelming. I’m still numb. I’ve had multiple anxiety attacks, palpitations. I don’t wish this situation on anyone. I’m not the same person that I used to be. I’m almost a shadow of myself.”
According to the BBC, the United Nations has called on the Indian government to offer her protection. But Ayyub said that no government officials had even tried to contact her.
“Nobody so far has come forward, nobody has reached out to me offering me support or any kind of security. Nothing of that sort has happened yet,” she said.
Watch Ayyub’s interview with the BBC below.