Fake news on social media: Its impact on society | By Mufti G Yasin Nizami

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Fake news on social media: Its impact on society

TODAY we are constantly exposed to information overload. Especially with the development of social media, where the control is weak, people are caught in a surge of news that is questionable whether it is true or not.

News can quickly reach the masses and can lead to provocation. However, the Allah Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an; O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.

One of the most important features that distinguishes a conscious Muslim from an unconscious person is that they do not carry every news they hear to others.

The following Hadith draws our attention to this issue: It is enough for a man to prove himself a liar when he goes on narrating whatever he hears. The problem of fake news and misinformation also negatively affects health-related issues.

Misinformation in the field of health and medicine has begun to pose a danger to the health of the society and individuals.

Therefore, it would not be right for us to praise inaccurate information and conspiracy theories about the source, vaccine and treatment of the disease on platforms such as social media. As Muslims, we only speak in areas where we have sound knowledge.

Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) even warned those who are not experts in the field of medicine with these words: Anyone who practices medicine when he is not known as a practitioner will be held responsible. And Islam takes a harsh stand against the spread of lies, calumny and rumours.

Fully aware of the scale of injury and damage a lie can inflict, the Prophet of Islam said, “The Impact of the tongue is harsher than the impact of the sword”.

According to Islam, every news that reaches you should be verified before it is passed on. To be labelled as a liar, one need not tell lies intentionally. Islam labels one as liar if one passes on unverified news.

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: It is enough lying for a man to speak of everything that he hears.

Thus, spreading misinformation is not just a crime in the worldly sense but also a grave sin.

God takes a very serious account of it. Islamic injunctions in this regard ask us to verify news before we take action. If we are not in a position to verify news items, we can put the matter before experts.

These experts can bring to the fore the facts of the matter and remove any misperception or misrepresentation.

Mental agony and physical injury caused by fake news or lies are of a very serious nature. Fake news and rumours can corrupt and damage our societies critically. People should be extremely cautious about every word that they utter.

They will be held accountable for not only the deeds they perform, but also for the words they speak.

Allah has an impeccable system of recording our words. Each word a person utters shall be noted down by a vigilant guardian. Believers, fear God, and say the right word.

In today’s reality, the usage of social media platforms, given the large amount of information we consume daily, we are inclined to practice shallow reading.

As such, fake news exploits this habit. The trap of spreading unverified information is in the way the information is crafted and decorated.

More often than not, tragedies and disasters are mysterious in nature. It creates a mental void as we are not able to grasp the chronology of events or what took place pre, during or post ordeal.

Any footage (images, videos or audio) brought to our attention immediately feeds our curiosity and fills that mental void.

We feel in control as these footages provide clarity and insights to the initial mystery. Now that we “know” what happened, we believe that we have an upper hand over the rest and that triggers us to share and bring others out of the unknown.

This is especially important because we do not want to fall into the trap of consuming extremist ideologies.

Extremists’ websites, magazines and articles are packaged with impactful images and HD videos.

They weave their ideologies in eye-catching articles. If we are not cautious, we might subconsciously buy into their ideas, consume their extremist narratives and segregationist teachings and feed on information that challenges the values that we were brought up with.

Once we believe, it will influence our emotions and shape our worldview.

The fact of the matter is that social media leads us to consequences that we do not see.

We hardly feel any harm because, in the name of sharing, we instantly press the “Share/Send” button.

Little do we know that our act of spreading of online falsehood has caused other people’s livelihood and in some extreme cases even death.

In the name of sharing, we spread untruths, fuel confusion and create unnecessary doubt. Instead of radiating good to others, we may push others to unfortunate circumstances.

It is tricky to navigate through the fog of fake news. Nevertheless, it should not hinder us from being the true proponents of good.

To achieve that, we should simply check before we share just to ensure that we spread facts and not rumours a habit that can protect us from persecution and from spreading persecution.

— The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.