Filtering the Internet to suit Muslims

Filtering the Internet to suit Muslims

The Istanbul World Political Forum was held at the Istanbul Convention Center on May 17 and 18. There were many discussions going on at the event, but the one that I was particularly interested in was about how social media has changed the world.

Ali Saydam, chairman of Bersay Communication Group’s Board of Directors moderated the discussion, while Artik Kuzmin first deputy CEO of Salamworld, Hani Al-Menaii R&D manager of Ebdaa Group, Khaled Taha former group director “CTO” of Technology & New Media for Al Jazeera Network, Senussi Bsaikri general director of the Libyan Center for Research and Policy Studies and Jabber Salem Al Harmi editor in chief of Al-Sharq newspaper were the speakers.

The advertisement for the panel as listed on the organizers page was as follows: Digital media built a network among like-minded people, accelerated the political change and allowed a real-time synchronization for the movement. Organizations that couldn’t possibly be built in years can now be built within weeks. How will social/digital media influence consumption preferences, lifestyles; economic, social and political tendencies?

However, the questions raised were of a different nature. It was partly because the sponsor of the panel was Salamworld, a Facebook style website for Muslims. 

Hürriyet Daily News reported that, “Salamworld hopes to be a far cleaner version of Facebook by ‘filtering out harmful content’ and ensuring that its pages ‘uphold and respect family values,’ according to the company’s commercial. Salamworld, based in Istanbul, will be launched in eight languages during Ramadan in July. The social network aims to have 50 million users within five years.”

In his speech, Kuzmin said that they have gone deep into programming for Islamic values. He added that Salamworld will only contain content that Muslim people would like to have. He claimed that they are using filtering to create a new kind of social media which is pure and clean. Naturally this sparked a lot of questions from the audience. A very frustrated woman told Kuzmin that what they are doing would only further separate people of different religions.

Another audience member asked Kuzmin how the difference in filtering content for good purposes and banning freedom of speech could be defined. Kuzmin answered both questions by stating that Islam is open to all and very friendly to other religions. He stated that Salamworld will create a social network where Muslim people can enjoy real freedom. 

I believe that this debate will continue until Salamworld launches. I would never want to see the Internet be divided into realms of different religions as the world is right now. However, we cannot stop Salamworld going after what they believe to be righteous. Filtering the internet to make it halal is an ideal I don’t share. I believe the Internet is beautiful as it is. 

The other important discussion happening at the forum was on how social media can elevate levels of hatred among people of different sides. Hani al-menaii said that “look [at] any hashtag about region and you will see lots of fighting and bloodshed.” This is a major problem for any news channel in the world. They have to spend hours editing the curses different sides write to each other. He added that we need a new definition of leadership in social media based on global values rather than the values of any one religion. I couldn’t agree with him more.