The advent of social media in the region has had several positive effects. No longer can the guardians of media suppress information, incidents or narratives that previously could not see the light of day. As a result several incidents concerning the public have come to the fore and errant officials have been taken to task by the authorities.
However, there is another side to this sudden new found freedom – a more negative and at times sinister one. It can be used to create prejudice and spread misinformation, lies and rumors to attack other people one does not agree with, other sects and ethnic groups. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat are being used for malicious purposes to undermine people’s honor and character.
When a Jeddah businessman made a statement concerning the budget that was misunderstood, many attacked him with vile criticism and abuses were hurled at him. His personal life was unfolded on the social media platform.
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as the saying goes and those who had no idea what was behind the businessman’s statement joined in the fray. It was a free-for-all and went on for several weeks revealing a dark and ugly side of our society.
Apart from this, there are miscreants who post a comment attributing it to someone else. The so-called “good citizens” begin tweeting it, linking to it and even disseminating it through emails. They even fax it and take delight in disparaging the victim.
In our society, such practices are initiated to propagate one’s loyalty and patriotism. These are all false attempts in self-aggrandizement. Many believe them and the victim becomes an object of scorn. What is more dangerous is the call by some of these self-appointed “guardians of the nation” to arrest the person who is falsely believed to have put his views on social media.
Evidence is ignored, conspiracy theories are cooked up and these miscreants plaster their victims with accusations. They use false accounts to add followers. Anyone disagreeing with them is termed a traitor. And because we are not a politically mature society, many of us fall into the trap. In their eyes, anyone not following their viewpoint is termed a betrayer.
However, we cannot all be parrots. Some of us have our own opinions. And I tell them that we not only have them but we also have empathy for other people. Things are really getting out of control.
A couple of days ago, a woman tweeted calling for my arrest. I ask these people: Are you the sole agents of patriotism and loyalty?
Social media is a good and speedy platform and it should be put to good use to create better understanding and to highlight our values and ideals. Anything else will only serve to plunge us into a dark abyss.