The term ‘fake news’ came about fogging our lenses and distorting reality. Time and time again, we witness the effects of spreading unverified information – from the loss of livelihood to death. As we spend a substantial amount of time on the digital space daily, as Muslims, what do we need to know about fake news?
The spread of fabricated news and rumours can be traced back to Islamic history. In the Qur’an, Surah An-Nur illustrates how Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and his family were victims of fake news. In the unfortunate episode, Sayyidatina Aisha r.a, the wife of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, was accused of having an affair with one of the Prophet’s companions named Safwan r.a. The spread of this false information bred tension within the Prophet’s family and Aisha’s parents. The incident truly upset the Prophet s.a.w. After a month, this ill-fated episode came to an end when the accusations were found to be fake and Aisha was proven innocent.
لَّوْلَآ إِذْ سَمِعْتُمُوهُ ظَنَّ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنَـٰتُ بِأَنفُسِهِمْ خَيْرًا وَقَالُوا۟ هَـٰذَآ إِفْكٌ مُّبِينٌ
Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and (believing women think good of one another and say, "This is an obvious falsehood"?
Surah An-Nur verse 12
In today’s reality, the term ‘fake news’ became mainstream due to a plethora of disinformation online. Imagine, in 2018 alone, there were over 1.8 billion websites! Additionally, the usage of social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, have changed the way we communicate and share information dramatically. With the plethora of streams of information today, how do we know what is good, positive and healthy for our consumption?
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. Content with catchy headlines or overdramatized titles, that are peppered with verses from the Qur’an or snippets of Hadith or quotes from religious scholars seems credible in the eyes of the reader. When we see something that is in line with our beliefs, we instantly believe in it. It then translates as an impulse – or a force – for us to act upon it. Most of the time, we share.
Tip: When the title is typed in capital letters followed by unnecessary punctuation marks, it is merely to trigger your emotions. Whenever in doubt, refer a religious teacher
3. When you receive unverified information, check before you share
وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِۦ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ ٱلسَّمْعَ وَٱلْبَصَرَ وَٱلْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْـُٔولًا
“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge; surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned (in the Day of Judgement).”
Surah Al-Isra’ verse 36
Interestingly, the Qur’an has outlined a useful guide for us in this climate. It urges us to leave or discard information that we are unsure of. The Qur’an has outlined a useful guide for us in this climate. It urges us to leave or discard information that we are unsure of. This is in reference to any information we read on Facebook, WhatsApp or any other platform and rumours that we hear. Should we spread these unverified ideas, we will be held accountable by Allah despite not having any intention to spread falsehood, or fitnah. Hence, this verse calls for us to be responsible, mindful and careful when sharing information. Check the information before you share. If you are unsure, leave it. That in itself is doing good to others.
4. We are more likely to share unverified information post-disaster or tragedy
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.
Tip: When you receive any information after a disaster or tragedy, ask yourself, “Is it legit?” Always Google to check if it is already on the news. If it is not, chances are that it’s fake!
5. When you read online, read with a pinch of salt
The same formula applies when you consume information online. 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.
6. By saving yourself from spreading fitnah, you save others
When you jump on the bandwagon and spread online falsehood, you are spreading fitnah and you let others to believe in untruths as well. In the Qur’an, Allah mentions –
إِذْ تَلَقَّوْنَهُۥ بِأَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَتَقُولُونَ بِأَفْوَاهِكُم مَّا لَيْسَ لَكُم بِهِۦ عِلْمٌ وَتَحْسَبُونَهُۥ هَيِّنًا وَهُوَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ عَظِيمٌ
When you were propagating (spreading) it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you considered it light, in the sight of Allah it is very great.
Surah An-Nur, verse 15
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 scepticism. Instead of radiating good to others, we may push others to unfortunate circumstances.
Tip: There is no harm in sharing information but share that of which you know is reliable and valid. Check the source or ask around if anyone has heard about it.
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 fitnah and from spreading fitnah.