We had a session in the last MAS Youth Central Annual Meeting discussing possibilities of using the social media in outreach and tarbiya purposes. The session had a lot of good discussions. However, due to lack of planning from the session facilitators (which I am one of them), we did not get to discuss every thing. One of the things that we wanted to discuss is the idea of developing a high quality Muslim character on the web. Whenever I talk about this issue with people, they discourage me from that saying that people just have to apply the high quality Muslim character they have in the regular life in their virtual life and that is it. While I agree, I think there should still be a discussion of some specific realization of this character on the web. So, let this post be a contribution to that. I came up with a few tips that can serve as a reminder as of how to conduct ourselves on the web. Why six? Well, you can add to them if you want. Here are they:
- “May the believer be a lier? He said no”. As simple as this tip may appear, we often forget to utilize the very straightforward, very basic character trait that we actually apply to our regular life. For example, being truthful–yes, as simple as this–is often forgotten on the web. Some times people make a comment on their Facebook wall or show a Facebook status that does not really represent the truth. The prophet (pbuh) did not permit the believer to tell anything but the truth even in joking. Make your postings, chats, and statuses truthful. Also, trustworthiness is key. Disclosing people’s secret on the web is even much worse than disclosing them in person. Email forwarding should be done with extreme caution. It is not surprising to see people who do not have good character in real life to be bad on the web. What is really surprising is for people of good character in real life to forget this character on the web. It is very tricky and we ought to be careful about it
- “Ah, Woe to us! What a book is this! It does not omit a small one or a great one except that is encompassed it…” This verse mentions a statement said by bad people who, in the day of judgement, find a book of records collecting all the actions and the words, big or small, that they did in this life. As for the virtual life on the web, everything is logged. The amount of time you spend on every page, which pages you visits, which photos you watched, what comments you wrote, and what comments you read. One of the very decisive criterion to measure your character on the web is to ask your self, “What if this log gets presented to everyone, would I be proud of it or ashamed of it?” The answer will help you to conduct yourself in a way to manage what kind of items will be on your log. If Facebook decides to publish people’s logs to their relatives after they die, what would be your feeling towards that? As silly and wrong publishing the log is, it is actually a good thing to reflect on. I wrote a short story in the past called “MYFP;” that is MAS Youth Facebook Police and I did not publish it due to its silliness. Nevertheless, when I read it, it helps me.
- Over the shoulder indicator. This is an excellent indicator to help. We all like to have these private moments on the web where no body really gets involved with us in what we do. I enjoy these moments. However, a nice indicator is “over the shoulder indicator.” Every time I am doing something on the web, I think about this. What if my wife is watching me at this particular moment? What if one of my kids saw what I am doing? Am I comfortable sharing my screen? What if I am on a web meeting and forget my screen sharing on? Very scary, huh! Of course privacy is different and there may be good and not wrong things that you STILL want to keep private. But this indicator will also help. One of the scholars once said, “be ashamed from Allah as you are from one of the great people in your family.“
- “Modesty and faith is intertwined …” is a word from our prophet to bring our attention to this important virtue. I see many of my brothers and sisters very modest in their real life in the way they conduct themselves. On the web, there is some relaxation of this modesty. I know we need a space to feel free and to post photo, videos, and comments about ourselves and share our very personal experience with our friends. But we can still do that while maintaining modesty.
- Role model multiplied. We have a circle of influence around ourselves. We are role models to these people whether we like it or not. I meet about 10-20 people a day and whatever I do, good or bad, has an effect upon them. If I do good and they learn it from me, I will get rewarded. If I do otherwise, I will get the consequence of their mistakes. On the web, we interact with hundreds and some times thousands. Imagine getting the reward of a few thousand people doing something good or bearing the sin of a few thousand people doing something bad., just because they copied you. It is a great opportunity but also comes with a great challenge.
- Emotionless medium. When we post a message, make a comment, tag a picture, send an email, or engage in chat, we are limited in expressing ourselves. Sometimes we are even talking to people who have not known us enough or have not even seen us before. We use only words and some emoticons that carry very slim percentage of the emotion. A smily face like this 🙂 could mean a friendly smile, a smile of arrogance, a smile of looking down to people, a smile of making fun of people, or however the other party will understand them. Telling people “I hate you” could be the best thing to get them closer to you or stop your friendship forever. The amount of problems this lack of emotions creates is really scary.
My intent of posting this or wanting to have a discussion in the first place is NOT to be limting to people’s liberty on the web or to their personal spaces where they share and care. I did not also intend to give people a list of to dos or not to dos. I do not even want people to be nervous and stop being themselves on the web. I just want to help in starting a discussion where we arrive at an attitude where we are conducting ourselves freely and normally while maintaining high quality Muslim character, naturally and without thinking
Your thoughts are appreciated!