Social Media Phenomena
We have witnessed over the last fifty years an immense and gigantic leap in human civilisation that has changed the social, cultural and economical dynamics of the modern world.
The advent of new technology has certainly contributed towards a more progressive and sophisticated living standards especially in the developed world. The rapid and ever evolving innovative technologies have been awe inspiring and mesmerising, to the extent that people cannot grasp or comprehend a world without it. New sciences and technologies have revolutionised the lives of millions of people throughout the world. None more so than the initiation of the world wide web – internet.
A world without the internet is incomprehensible, unbearable and unlivable – so we may think. In fact, we cannot bear the thought of a world without it. Since 2002 the number of internet users has quadrupled to 2.3 billion people worldwide. Our lives depend on it all the time for communicating, travelling, shopping, banking, selling, educating, entertaining, browsing, etc. We are so reliant of it that the digital revolution dominates our lives. Startling statistic show that in one month of Facebook there are 30 billion pieces of content shared. In addition, in one minute of Twitter there are one hundred thousand tweets.
However, the changing mode of behaviour is a reflection of the virtual and unrealistic world we are living in that is devoid of courtesy, politeness and respect – the emblem of Islam. The manner and etiquettes of communication and interaction has also changed. The lit machines have become ‘anti social communicational gadgets’ or ‘conversational avoidance devices’, removing the physical element of contact and dialogue. The physical contact between human beings has been replaced by a simulated and artificial connection that is devoid of feeling and emotion – video links, web cam et al have changed the way we communicate with other human beings. In essence, human beings are becoming superfluous, unessential in the new technological world. Talking and conversing is becoming an ancient methodology, especially, with the advent of texting, emailing, messaging and tweeting. No longer can two individuals converse with one another without the ‘lit machines’ intruding their conversations. In fact, some have mastered the art of sustaining eye contact with a person whilst at the same time texting, browsing or scrolling.
That said, it is undeniable that the internet has alleviated many great difficulties, struggles and worries that human beings have experienced through out their existence. It has enabled man to enjoy the experiences of life and the strenuous day to day chores and errands with such ease and comfort like never before. Certainly, by the grace of Allah, we are living in such an unparalleled and unprecedented period that previously humans have never experienced such comfort and solace. However, post digital phenomenon has also come at a huge cost to the morality, decency and integrity of human beings as alluded above.
Moreover, with the advent of the internet, the accessibility of immorality, indecency and depravity has become widespread and rampant. Despite the advancement in human civilisation and intellectualness, human beings during this development have regressed spiritually and morally. The satanic influence and persuasion has ensured corruption, wickedness and immorality is still prevalent in all societies as vowed by Iblees ‘Then I will come upon them from their front side and from their behind, and from their right and from their left. You will not find most of them grateful.’ (Surah A’raaf, verse 17)
The popularity of the internet and in particular websites can be quantified by the volume of its users and the nature of its application. In the last five years, the fascination of such websites as Facebook and Twitter has caused a sea change in the way we communicate and interact with one another. In fact, social networking sites have become the new vehicle of information sharing and disseminating and broadcasting of news. In the recent past, key events have been brought to the attention of the world by ordinary people reporting the news first hand.
The Arab spring had caught the attention of the masses and stirred and inspired a coherent and sustained revolt and uprising against the brutal and wretched regimes in the Arab world courtesy of some sort to social networking mediums. In fact, it took just one week for ninety thousand Egyptians to organise a revolution and only eighteen days of protest to overthrow thirty years of dictatorship. Thus, the nature of modern technology is that it has multiple advantages if used appropriately and suitably. Publicising and promoting the religion of Islam which encourages righteousness, justice, tolerance, honesty and morality is a virtuous and commendable act that every Muslim should be aspiring to, and engaged in. It is an opportunity to illustrate the beautiful teachings of Islam using mediums that are accessed by millions around the globe.
However, it is indicative of current trends that any innovation has to be tampered with wickedness and evilness. It is a slur on modern styles and tendencies that that new innovations transpire to become forces of evil as oppose to forces for good by our undoing. Thus, social networking websites have become a place for slurring, slandering, gossiping and backbiting. Revelatory and provocative information only serves to fan the flame of indecency, immorality and offensiveness. Uncensored and unregulated information is viewed by all including children ensuring breakage of innocence and purity. Inflammatory and blasphemous comments are being read and consumed by us on a daily basis that we become desensitised, unresponsive and unaffected. These so called friendly and popular sites have enticed us to create new cyber friends from unimaginable places, sharing on the most trivial of matters to the secretive, personal, insensitive and hateful of information, transcending all boundaries of decency, civility and good manners. The most vile and despicable writings have been read by millions around the globe to ensure the gravy train of entertainment continues to crush the innocent bystanders.
Therefore, as parents, guardians and responsible Muslims, we must put safeguards in place to protect ourselves from corrupting our faith. If we insist in using or accessing these sites, then ensure it is used to promote righteousness, virtues and justice. Children should be refrained from accessing, reading and viewing these kinds of sites other than for Islamic or educational purposes because vile images or dreadful anti-Islamic sentiments corrupt the mind and indoctrinate the most vulnerable. Constant exposure to anti-Islamic sentiments can create doubts in the mind of a Muslim if it is not argued or challenged appropriately, causing great danger to one’s Imaan - faith. In fact, the Government have just recently completed a consultation on Parental Internet Control and it aims to write its findings and publish it at a later date. Ofcom’s statistics show that 12% of 8-11 year olds and 24% of 12-15 year olds use social networking sites to communicate with people not known to them. Additionally, 19% of 11-16 year olds have seen potentially harmful user generated content, rising to 32% of 14-16 year old girls. 8% of children 11-16 have experienced bullying on the internet. A third of 12-15 year olds think all search engine information is truthful. 
Therefore, content that is inappropriate should not be read or viewed. Viewing unsuitable and prohibited sites/links is a major sin. Furthermore, expressing a liking to the link and forwarding it to others is also considered a major sin because publishing or distributing prohibitive articles, texts, images or sites are Islamically unlawful acts. Furthermore, conversing, tweeting or chatting with non-Mahram through the social networking sites is forbidden. Men are conversing with strange women or vice versa causing the veil of modesty to be removed. The damage can be irreversible and immeasurable, affecting individuals, families, communities and even the wider society. Of course we are all aware of this, however, how many of us blatantly and unashamedly flout these laws for ones purpose and benefit. In essence, if one insists in accessing social networking sites then use it to benefit humanity as opposed to causing unquantifiable and immeasurable damage in this world and the hereafter.
May Allah protect us from the vices and devices that corrupt our most cherished possession – Imaan.
By Aslam Seedat