Problems on hold
I have repeatedly resisted the urge to challenge public opinion forming elements in Egypt, be they a wide wilful swath of the media or a by and large unruly social media. Both these sectors have been thriving on spewing unsubstantiated, unconfirmed material from dubious sources—that is if they bother to quote any source at all. I placed my bet on the educated people in our community, whom I thought would have the perception to critically assess whatever material is dispatched by the media or social media, and would not be easily led into believing what can amount to no more than rumour or questionable stuff. Today, I apologise to my readers: I lost my bet.
It has become obvious that even the educated among us rush to swallow false information without bothering to check whether or not it is true or possibly credible. Even on the level of our paper, Watani, I painfully admit that many of our reporters have had the tendency to follow leads or cues that had gone viral on social media but had no credible backing. We would direct these reporters to substantiate the leads first, upon which they would discover in nine cases out of ten that the information they had picked from the social media was totally untrue. If this is the case with journalists, who have at their fingertips all the means to check the validity of data, how can the general public that has no such means be blamed?
We now live in an era of open skies where all and every information is just a click of a mouse or key away. The hazard lies with the receiver who would take in without question whatever comes up on screen. But worse, that receiver would rush to share the material with as many others as he or she can reach, probably proud to be the first to know the ‘news’. I have become increasingly worried lately that those seen as well-educated and widely-cultured in our community have taken to that practice, no surprise then that others would willingly take what these post or share as unquestionable fact.
Among the most recent posts that went viral on social media was one that concerned the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Cairo on 20 April. Mr Kerry was on his way to Riyadh to join President Obama the following day in an American Saudi Gulf summit to discuss US Saudi relations and the hot issues in the region. The spokesman of the Egyptian presidency described the Cairo meeting as cordial, and said that President Sisi had confirmed the strategic relations between the two countries. He also said that Mr Kerry had stressed the commitment of the US to support Egypt in her battle against terrorism and in her security and economic challenges, Egypt being a country that carried a pivotal role in bringing peace and stability to the region. All this appeared to accord with the development of Egypt US relations during the last six months which saw repeated visits by American high-ranking officials and congressmen to Egypt.
The social media, however, propagated totally different ‘unpublished news’ which I print here not with the aim of spreading them but to show a shocking sample of messing with Egyptian minds and public opinion. I print it word for word, without trifling even with the punctuation. I received it from a number of sources who all enjoy a high level of education and culture. The item in question reads as follows:
From knowledgeable sources
International escalation of the case of Gulio Regini, which would then be taken to the International Court of Justice that would [be directed to] issue a ruling against Egypt, upon which the Security Council would levy harsh sanctions against Egypt. This is why Obama is in London, to coordinate with the European Union, of course upon incitement from Israel, and prepare for [the execution of] the plan.
I ask all to share this on the widest scale so that everyone would know.”
Is it obvious now how such material can spread potentially destructive information where our national security and strategic interests are concerned? But again I stress that, even worse, such false unsubstantiated news are spread by people who are seen as the epitome of education and culture, yet who never bother to check the credibility or validity of the material they get. Do they realise that they thus stand to ruin Egypt?
8 May 2016