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

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 label social media as a malign phenomenon, a place where bullying, extremism and crime are given a free rein to thrive, and bad actors are allowed to hide behind a veil of anonymity. As the Muslim World League marks the year anniversary of its #RejectHate campaign, however, its Secretary General, Mohammad Abdulkarim Alissa, explains how online platforms are proving to be a force for good globally.

With nearly 98 per cent 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, according to the Muslim World League (MWL), a Mecca-based NGO that promotes moderate and peaceful Islamic vales, good is winning over evil in the online world.

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 organisation was responsible to the conception of the Charter of Makkah, which saw Muslim leaders from 139 countries agree on 30 key principle points of modern Islam, including the need for equality, religious harmony and female empowerment. Most recently in March last year, MWL launched the #RejectHate campaign, inviting supporters to sign an online petition urging social media companies to do more to combat bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment online.

According to the campaign’s page, one in every thousand posts from one major social network violates the company’s rules on hate speech but more than three-quarters of this 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 fuelled by content spread through social media,” the webpage reads. “Now is the time for [these networks] to impose a zero-tolerance policy towards hate speech targeting any religion. These companies must introduce more robust procedures to see it quickly removed.”

But while pushing for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms, Alissa, a Saudi religion leader and the Secretary General of the MWL, says the #RejectHate campaign and other educational tools are ensuring the social media platforms billions rely on are doing more good than harm across the world. “Extremists and terrorism have benefited from social networking sites, yes,” he admits, “but powerful voices in the worlds of religion and thought leadership are now active themselves online in ways which limit the likelihood of unfounded speech dominating the conversation.”

He credits social media with having brought people from all walks of life, closer together, removing the barriers of distance while dispelling myths and facilitating important conversations between neighbouring but diverse communities. He believes social networks have also empowered the people of the region to become more discerning with their media consumption, allowing access to raw, unfiltered data and marginalised voices. “Innovation in offering users ready access to candid dialogue, relevant local networks, the ability to fact check and other personalised connections have not only worked to benefit society but, in many ways, reorder its ability to communicate with itself,” says Alissa.

The other edge of that sword, however, is when online communities blindly stick within 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 the result,” says Alissa.

While he supports regulations that would see social media platforms act as stewards for the information on their platforms, the Secretary General is staunchly against ironclad censorship, saying such an approach would go against the very lifeblood of social media – its openness. He is instead calling for more education and thought leadership campaigns to follow in the footsteps of #RejectHate.

“By strengthening the manner in which society engages with social media via public awareness campaigns, a continued adherence to high moral values will prevail,” he hopes. “Hate speech and extremist hate are outliers within the wider world of social media engagement, a truth which our awareness campaign has sought to leverage in offering a continued optimism for healthy engagement.”

While the protection against overuse and the stamping out of misuse have never been more important, we must not let these dark spots eclipse the light of social media’s great potential, says Alissa. “I don’t think those blemishes outweigh the benefits of social media, nor are they obstacles that can’t be overcome.”

Originally published on Business Reporter