Fake News Strikes Again With ‘Saudi Slaves’ Rumour

The latest outrage this week has been over comments by Saudi Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Suleiman that Pakistanis are ‘Saudi slaves’. Only problem…

He never said it.

If the Saudi Defence Minister never called Pakistanis ‘Saudi slaves’ (or anyone’s slaves for that matter), why do so many of our fellow countrymen believe he did? The answer goes back to a ‘news report’ by Arabi21, a Lebanon-based news site.

Arabi21 News Report

Curiously, the story is not even from Lebanon, it is quoting an Iranian news agency. But that doesn’t really matter at all, because nowhere in the story does it say anything about the Saudi Defence Minister terming anyone as anyone else’s slave. So why do so many people believe that it does?

The answer comes down to two important facts. First, the media report being quoted is in Arabic, which most Pakistanis can’t read (disclosure: neither can I – I had to ask a friend to translate for me!) Second fact: A Pakistani ‘security analyst’ said so on social media:

The problems with this fake rumour were almost immediately noted by other journalists on Twitter

However even after several days since it was disproven, the original Tweet is still there and being passed around as ‘proof’. The fake rumour has received massive attention in large part because of controversies and worries about our role in the Saudi military alliance and the more recent crisis in Gulf over the isolation of Qatar. This has led to a spike in fake news stories over these issues meant to, in the trendy terminology, ‘shape perceptions’.

There is another issue at play, though, which is our sense of pride. After taking billions of dollars in foreign aid from Saudi, and watching millions of Pakistanis emigrating to KSA for jobs that bring billions more in remittances…why are we so quick to react to every piece of fake news that stings our pride a little bit?

We swing back and forth from one extreme to the other. First we fit our cars with number plates that refer to a fictional ‘al Bakistan‘ because we don’t actually know Arabic, then we get outraged over fake news – again, because we don’t know Arabic.

This outrage, like so many outrages over fake news, could easily be stopped before they start with one simple task: Fact checking. If you receive something on WhatsApp or even if someone tells you directly, why not ask for the facts. Where did they learn this information? Can you see the story? Where did it come from? Can you read it? If not, can you get a translation? Has it been verified by any other journalists or media agencies?

We are living in particularly sensitive times. There are forces at play that do not have our best interests in mind, and the internet and social media especially have made the spread of fake news so fast and so real looking that we cannot believe everything we hear or read. Thankfully, the same technology that makes fake news spread is also the antidote to the disease. Next time, before you get angry and quickly react, take the time to fact check.