Arab academics warn against social media attacks

Twitter and Facebook are full of posts criticizing important social figures like judges, scientists and writers

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A number of academics have warned against criticizing public figures on social media and called for the establishment of a national center to combat IT-related crimes.

They noted that Twitter and the Facebook are full of posts criticizing important social figures including judges, scientists, writers and officials.

Speaking to an Arabic language newspaper this week, the academics said social media has become an arena for cyber war against public personalities in the absence of strict regulation. They said Twitter users have used cartoon characters to mock judges and other public figures to the point of slander and defamation.

The academics said social media has created a free market for ideas and thoughts but users are not aware of the impact of their words.

Khaled Bin Salem Al-Dinawi, Dean of the College of Shariah and Islamic Studies at Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University in Al-Ahsa, said it was against Islam to mock or criticize judges and other important persons on social media. “This will further deepen the wounds of the nation and erode trust in its judges,” he said.

He said Muslims should not defame others for any reason or use foul language to mock them.

“Muslims should always be tolerant and forgiving,” he said.

Al-Dinawi asked Muslims not to circulate any news item before verifying its authenticity. He also asked Muslims not to believe the rumors or condemn others before they are officially implicated by the law. He recalled that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked Muslims to be gentle and kind to each other and to watch their tongues before uttering any harmful word. “Muslims should be keen on the things that unify them rather than the things that might differentiate them,” he added.

Al-Dinawi said Muslims should first discipline themselves before looking for the mistakes and shortcomings of others.

“It is unfair to pinpoint the faults of others and forget about your own mistakes,” he said.

Khaled Bin Abdulaziz Al-Shalfan, dean of the university’s recruitment center, said social media tools have become part of the contemporary communications revolution, which is progressing day after day.

“The concerned officials, scientists, intellectuals and researchers must study the best means of using these tools to reduce their adverse side effects,” he said.

Al-Shalfan said networking tools have made it very easy for people to communicate with each other but warned against using these tools to propagate harmful ideas. “These tools may be used to deviate from the principles of religion and also threaten the social fabric,” he said. He said social media is different from books and other publications, which are regulated by print law.

“They are also different from TV and radio stations, which are controlled by international restrictions, so they are open forums for anyone to say they want,” he said.

Al-Shalfan said under the pretext of the freedom of speech, some users of social media have defamed innocent people and spread false rumors. “These users should balance between their personal freedom and the danger these tools might pose to others,” he said.

He called for social media and websites to be strictly regulated and said any site used to sow seeds of sedition among society should be immediately blocked.

Maysoon Abdulaziz Saddiq, an associate professor in the university, said users of social media had no right to criticize or defame others. “Anyone who does this should be penalized,” she said.

She warned that the abuse would not stop at judges alone but also focus on other important personalities if social media was not properly regulated.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on January 30th