The world has been wholeheartedly supporting the Facebook-fueled revolutions in the Arab world as a victory of free speech and democracy in totalitarian states. But, as with every new medium, it is a double-edged sword.
One example is how opposing political groups will — sometimes with the best intentions, but often cynically — use Facebook to give the impression of momentum and support for causes that had little of either. The first reports from Tahrir Square on January 25 vastly exaggerated the number of protesters, and these false reports helped fuel the increase in willing protesters for the following day.
Both Hamas and Fatah have been planting Facebook groups to incite against the other, trying to give the impression that these groups are spontaneous manifestations of popular unrest.
A new trend seems to be starting, however.
Arabs have historically been very susceptible to rumors, no matter how bizarre. (One only has to look at the many rumors about Zionist control of animals that I documented recently.) Much of the Arabic news media will happily pass on rumors as fact.
Now, Facebook and other social media tools can be used to make Arab rumor mongering much more effective.
I recently saw a rumor in an Arabic news source that there was an attempted coup in Oman a couple of weeks ago. Tracing it back, it appears to have been started on, you guessed it, Facebook:
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamed Ben Khalifa, succeeded in defeating the end of last week and attempted coup, which occurred after the deposition of some thirty senior Qatari army, some are under house arrest.
The news of the attempted coup coincided with a declaration of some people from families close to the emir of Qatar and opponents of the current regime, in which they announced the non-recognition of the legitimacy of the Emir Hamed Ben Khalifa, and seek to replace him by his brother Abdelaziz Ben Khalifa ben Hamed refugee to France.
The statement of the Qatari opposition, signed by 66 political opponents as well as Qatari personalities and ruling families, including 16 figures from the ruling family, contained serious accusations against the current Emir of Qatar, among others, relations with Israel and the United States of America. He is accused of working for the United States and creating discord among Arab countries in addition to his involvement with the family of his wife in corruption and social injustice against thousands of Qatari citizens.
The signatories of the statement have mentioned the wife of the Emir, known as “Sheikha Mouza Bint Nacer El Mesned “, whose appearances in various media, clothed contrary to the customs of Qatar which they considered “indecent”. His children, they add, have monopolized power and property of Qatari through use of power.
The signatories of the declaration encourage initiative on the social networking site Facebook, calling for bringing down the Qatari regime.
The newer Arabic article has added absurd accusations on top of these, saying that there is a video showing Qatar loading phosphorus bombs onto aircraft to send to Israel in order to attack Gazans! This video is supposedly dividing the ruling family against each other.
Will these ridiculous rumors lead to the fall of another Arab ruler? The ability of many Arabs to believe even the most preposterous lies indicates that opportunists will be using social media to manipulate public opinion even more than they had been up until now.