Quarterly: Issue No 96
Shawwal 1441 – May 2020
FAKE NEWS vs HADITH SCIENCE
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. All thanks and praise are due to Allah and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger Muhammad, his family and all his companions.
In today’s Internet World, production and distribution of multimedia is all in digital format. Not long ago, people used to copy books by hand and had to prove from whom they copied it for authenticity and security purposes. But in this age, the transfer and use of digitized media is on the increase. This frequent transfer and usage of digital media has created the need for verification and authentication of that which is being shared by the public.
When this digital information is tampered, distorted and then distributed amongst the public, it can cause chaos and great damage to all parties involved. This focus of concern has now shifted to social media. We can see how social media platforms such as Facebook have a dramatically different structure than previous media technologies. Social media content can now be relayed amongst users with no significant third-party filtering, fact-checking or editorial judgment. Any individual person - with no track record, authority or reputation - can reach many readers including huge news corporations like Fox News, CNN or the New York Times.
From an Islamic perspective, our rich tradition is filled with how the Science of Hadith was developed to check for the authenticity. It verifies, not just the text that was being transmitted, but also the chain of narrators. It also includes the check if the narrators had heard the text in the first place. Through this very rigid verification, most of the fabrications and lies were rooted out from the core.
The massive spread of fake news has been identified as a major global risk and has influenced elections and threatens democracies. Fake news boomed onto the international stage and took the media by storm in the recent US Presidential elections held in 2016. We saw how fake news has played a major role in polarizing the society and duping them into believing narratives that did not even exist in the first place. Fake news intentionally convinces the readers to accept biased or false beliefs. Fake news is usually propagated by those out to convey some political messages, influence people, or in some cases just to cause instability.
A glance at most news outlets today shows that they are more of a reality show rather than credible news organizations. Most people today get their news from their social media rather than tv channels or the newspapers. Not only fake news, we see a huge rise of misleading headlines known as “click-bait” in many social media pages. The idea is to get people captivated enough to read more and click the link provided in them. Clicking the link generates revenue for these companies. For many social media users who are just scrolling by without reading the actual article, the misleading title itself acts as a source of information. And in many cases, these misleading titles can be classified as fake news. Social media for news consumption is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its low cost, easy access and rapid dissemination of information are leading people to seek out and consume news from social media. On the other hand, it enables the wide spread of fake news, i.e. low-quality news with intentionally false information.
As long as these ‘fake news’ looks official, we find that many people tend to share this news without verifying it. By liking, sharing and searching for information, social “bots” (automated digital programs – related to chatbots - that imitate humans) can magnify the spread of fake news to a very large extent. By one recent estimate, between 9 and 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots. Facebook estimated that as many as 60 million bots may be infesting its platform. They were responsible for a substantial portion of political content posted during the 2016 U.S. campaign. And some of these same “bots” were later used to influence the 2017 French election.
While it is commendable that Facebook is trying to alleviate the fake news problem, it does not seem to be working. Refer to the following website: (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/16/facebook-fake-news-tools-not-working). Even if an article is debunked, the “disputed” flag often does not appear. The reliance on manual fact-checking by a select few organizations means that only a fraction of fake news can be adequately debunked and labelled as such. One of the most critical issues, however, is that the manual process takes too long given how quickly fake news spreads. If a third party debunks a fake news article, there is an approximate 13-hour lag between its initial release and the release of the third-party response. This is not considering the additional delay caused by Facebook’s implementation, where the content must first be flagged by users and then reviewed by at least two fact-checking organizations. This process is far too slow because a news article is viewed mostly in its first 36 hours, and it can peak in views in just a few hours. Before Facebook responds to the fake news, most of the damage has already been done. The issue is compounded by the fact that there is no available data (analytics) to show that Facebook’s flagging and tagging policy reduces the number of views and shares of fake news articles.
The Internet has not only become a medium for spreading fake news but it also provides platforms for propagating it further into the masses. In this fast-paced world that we live in today, social media has become part and parcel of our daily life. We get majority of our news and updates from sites like Facebook or micro-blogging giant, Twitter. Facebook – only recently – acknowledged that they were working to fix their algorithm so that it would filter out fake news, click bait and others, and promote a more holistic content for its users.
FAKE NEWS AND ISLAMOPHOBIA
In 2016, from a leaked cable of WikiLeaks, it was revealed that the Pentagon paid a UK PR firm to produce fake videos of Al Qaeda Attack during the Iraq war. The amount of payment was huge amounting to $540 million (Black & Fielding-Smith, 2016 – refer to the website: http://labs.thebureauinvestigates.com/fake-news-and-false-flags/). They used very similar territories to film the false videos with crews having make up like Muslim terrorist and uploaded those videos on internet which reached millions, creating hatred towards Muslims. Hence, the question: Are all the videos that we see today, of the beheadings and other propaganda videos of the terrorist groups really true? Or those were created by the firms paid by US government, to demonize the entire Muslim community. Even doubts arise whether all the news that we hear about terrorist activities and published by the media in lucrative way of condemnation, are true or just fake news on the basis of false propaganda.
SCIENCE OF HADITH
Hadith is part of the Prophetic legacy also known as the Sunnah. A Hadith is basically the words, actions, tacit approval and description given by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Hadith literally comes from the Arabic word ‘Haddatha’ which means ‘story’ and ‘news.’
From an Islamic perspective, for any classical work or text to be accepted amongst the people it needs to be authenticated and verified by the scholars of that discipline. It should be based on original and reliable sources of information i.e. the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
In the Science of Hadith, as per the Ode of Bayquniyyah, written by a well-known Shafi’ite scholar of Syria, 5 specific conditions are needed for a narration to be graded as Sahih:
The Sciences of Hadith that have developed over 1400 years of meticulous scholarship is one of the strongest verifications and authentication methodologies known to man. Let us take lessons from the Science of Hadith to battle and cut the increasing tide of fake news in social media looking at issues of content verification, reliable transmission, transmission method and charge of custody etc.
THE REALITY OF FAKE NEWS
Fake news is generally defined as authentic material used in the wrong context. It may include imposter news sites designed to look like the everyday brands we already know and trust. Such sites are then infested with fake information and manipulated. Similarly, in the Sciences of Hadith we see that people used to attribute their own words and meanings to the sayings of our beloved Prophet (SAW). Like the trusted news sites, they used to use names of the trusted narrators and make additions to the people in the chain of narration and modifications in the text to further their personal agenda. In the Sciences of Hadith such topics are mainly tackled by the conditions of اِتِّصَالُ السَّنَد and عَدَمُ العِلَّة. This includes checking if the chain of narrators is connected and hidden defects in the narration itself. The Arabic language is such that the slightest change in the way a word is written or pronounced changes the entire meaning of what is to be relayed. This concept was exploited by the enemies of Islam to sow doubts and misinformation into the narrations to misguide the people. This is where the scholars of Hadith have meticulously put in years of effort to sift through and check where any such changes have been made, hence preserving the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) and safeguarding it from the plots of the enemies of Islam.
For more detailed discussion on this subject, check out the following website:
Our beloved Prophet (SAW) used to pray: “O Allah! grant to my soul (Nafs) the sense of righteousness and purify it, for You alone are the Best Purifier of my soul. You are the Protecting Friend (Waliy) of it and the Guardian (Mawlaa) of it as well. O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the knowledge which does not benefit, from the heart that does not fear (You), from the soul that does not feel satisfied and from a DU’AA that is not answered.” (Muslim)
O Allah! Your Forgiveness is far greater than my sins and I have more hope in Your Mercy than in my own deeds.
Requesting your duas!
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir