Social media: a force for good in the fight against hate around the world

The Muslim World League was interviewed by Business Reporter

Critics sometimes refer to social media as a malignant phenomenon, a place where bullying, extremism and crime run rampant and bad actors can hide behind a veil of anonymity. However, as the Muslim World League marks the anniversary of its #RejectHate campaign, its Secretary General Mohammad Abdulkarim Alissa explains how online platforms are proving to be a force for good around the world.

With almost 98 percent of the population online, Saudi Arabia is one of the most digitally connected societies in the world. Similarly, however, every country’s cyberspace has the potential to become an echo chamber of fundamentalist rhetoric if left unchecked. With this in mind, good wins over evil in the online world, according to the Muslim World League (MWL), a Mecca-based NGO that promotes moderate and peaceful Islamic values.

Since Alissa became Secretary General of the MWL, the NGO has done much to combat extremism, hatred, injustice and oppression both within and towards the international community. In 2019, the organization was responsible for drafting the Charter of Mecca, in which Muslim leaders from 139 countries agreed on 30 key principles of modern Islam, including the need for equality, religious harmony and the empowerment of women. Most recently, in March of last year, MWL launched the #RejectHate campaign, inviting supporters to sign an online petition urging social media companies to do more to counter bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment online.

According to the campaign’s page, one in every thousand posts by a major social network violates the company’s hate speech rules, but more than three-quarters of that content is allowed to remain on the platform even after it’s been reported and investigated. “Muslims continue to suffer personal abuse, threats and physical violence fueled by content shared through social media,” the website said. “Now is the time for [these networks] to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards hate speech aimed at any religion. These companies need to put in place more robust procedures to ensure they are removed quickly.”

But Alissa, a Saudi religious leader and secretary-general of the MWL, is urging social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms, saying the #RejectHate campaign and other educational tools are helping billions of social Leaving media platforms is doing more good than bad around the world. “Extremists and terrorism have benefited from social networking sites, yes,” he admits, “but powerful voices in the world of religion and thought leadership are now active even online in ways that limit the likelihood of unsubstantiated speech disrupting the conversation.” dominate.”

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He credits social media for bringing people from all walks of life closer together, removing the barriers of distance, dispelling myths and facilitating important conversations between neighboring but disparate communities. He believes social networks have also empowered people in the region to be more critical about their media consumption by providing access to raw, unfiltered data and marginalized voices. “Innovations that offer users direct access to open dialogue, relevant local networks, fact-checking opportunities and other personalized connections have not only contributed to the benefit of society, but in many ways their ability to communicate with themselves, rearranged,” says Alissa.

The other edge of that sword, however, is when online communities blindly cling to their own belief systems and narratives, creating online echo chambers that breed negativity and dangerous ideas. “Once the conversation is tainted with hate speech and general negativity, society suffers,” says Alissa.

While he supports regulations requiring social media platforms to act as custodians of the information on their platforms, the Secretary-General is firmly opposed to ironclad censorship, saying such an approach would go against social media’s lifeblood – its openness. Instead, he calls for more education and thought leadership campaigns to follow in #RejectHate’s footsteps.

“By strengthening the way society interacts with social media through public awareness campaigns, a continued adherence to high moral values ​​will prevail,” he hopes. “Hate speech and extremist hatred are outliers in the broader world of social media engagement, a truth our awareness campaign sought to capitalize on to offer continued optimism for healthy engagement.”

While protecting against overuse and stopping abuse has never been more important, we must not let these dark spots dim the light of social media’s great potential, says Alissa. “I don’t think these flaws outweigh the benefits of social media, nor are they obstacles that cannot be overcome.”

Originally published on Business Reporter

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