Etiquette and Principles of Critical Discussion on Social Media

“Call to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and a good admonition, and debate with them in a manner that is good. Indeed your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is (rightly) guided ” [Holy Quran, 16:125]

To admonish your brother in private is to advise him and improve him. But to admonish him publicly is to disgrace and shame him.
– Imam Shafi (rahimullah)

Listed below are Manners/Ethics/Morals/Etiquette/Principles of critical discussion on social media (in particular about criticizing on someone’s post). These are mainly pertaining to facebook but may also be applied to twitter with a change in words (like change post to tweet)

These principles also apply to wattsapp and even any social gathering.

1.Always keep in mind a person may be expressing his/her PERSONAL opinion or quoting a saying, verse, quotation when writing a post and obviously he/she does NOT expect anyone or everyone to like or appreciate the post

2. Always remember to appreciate/like the persons post regularly instead of only looking for criticism

3. Keep following points in mind before commenting:

a) By sharing a post, it doesn’t mean that it has endorsement from the sender.

b) Second: according to sociologists “a man is a product of society” so by growing in our society it has become embedded in our personality to look for conspiracy in everything rather than focus on the essence or spirit of message.

c) It’s just an idea floated by some one. Instead of belittling each other let’s have healthy and constructive discussion on ideas.

4. Make sure the person posting may be much more knowledgeable & experienced than you. Thus one should always READ the persons posts and blogs before commenting. One may have missed major points.

5. Therefore always take care to be very respectful while criticizing any post and not to degrade, humiliate or pass comments below his/her dignity or rank. For example there is a difference in criticizing a colleague and criticizing one’s teacher

6. First Message in inbox the critical point to the person instead of directly commenting on the post; who knows you maybe wrong

7. Try to convince ‘by wisdom and good admonition’ as mentioned in the verse of the Holy Quran mentioned above.

8. Always take the time and try to thoroughly verify the post oneself before criticizing/making any comments about the post because the concerned person may not have the time to answer every comment/criticism on his/her every post.

9. A person before commenting should also possibly take time to look at the person’s other posts on the timeline. It will tell a lot about the person. Also one may have missed an important point or discussion in previous posts.

10. Always point out the good points about the post or his/her other posts first and then point out the suspected negative points of that particular post. This is always taught in Tarbiyah (spiritual guidance) sessions on how to communicate socially with good manners

11. Always try to criticize by saying ‘I think’ instead of asserting oneself; one’s criticism maybe proved wrong

12. If the person accepts your criticism of the post, you may request him/her to make a correction of the post or remove the post

13. If he convinces you that he is right and you are wrong OR there is a deadlock in the discussion, then you have THREE options:

14.Either make the discussion public (directly comment on the post instead of messaging) if it is a very important matter OR keep quiet and leave the matter to God OR comment on the post with/without reference on YOUR OWN timeline.

15. Be sure never to make any controversial comment, any sectarian comment, criticize a third person (with some exceptions) without his/her knowledge or criticize a post just for the sake of criticism.

16. Any open discussion should never be a ‘never-ending one’ with no real purpose being fulfilled. If a person does not stop arguing, just say ‘God knows best’ or ‘Peace!

17. One should be big enough to accept one’s mistake; whosoever has made the mistake should accept it if convinced that one is wrong

18. Never start abusing, ridiculing, disrespecting, making a mockery/fun of one another or be sarcastic especially if one is much more senior or experienced or knowledgeable to the other.

19. Many countries now consider posts on social media as legal documents liable to be sued if found offensive or liable for prosecution due to any other legal reasons. Likewise COMMENTS on the post are also deemed producible in courts, so one should be careful before commenting

20. Always remember the writer of a post on his/her timeline has every right/option given by social media to delete any comment on his/her posts due to a) controversial nature of comment b) obvious error in comment c) no time to give answers d) any reason mentioned in above point 16. e) delete comment without any reason because it is HIS/HER TIMELINE.

21. In case of continued/nonstop discussion, disturbance or disagreement etc, every person has the right to unfollow, unfriend or block the habitual offender

22. This is the reason why I often start the day in the name of God, with Salam (peace greeting) and with the hash-tag #WorldPeace

These are reasons plus some more given below as to why I delete some comments on my posts:

1. A completely false statement has been given

2. People comment without knowing my full viewpoint on the topic

3. I do not wish to publicly debate unless discussed in private first as is the princple of Islamic ethics

4. Often discussion goes on endlessly which is not advisable especially as

a) students waste of time and I have lots and lots of students as friends

b) discussion may get heated especially with emotionally charged students

c) I have been ridiculed, abused and sworn at

d) It often leads to disrespect in form of trolling, cyber bullying and abuse which has been prohibited in several countries

e) It is not advisable to debate one who is much less knowledgeable than you according to Imam Shafi

f) To avoid my readers getting misguided by wrong/controversial comments

g) Being a book-writer, blogger and professor with a family, I don’t have time to give answers to every comment/critique. People should take time, read my views if possible then comment/discuss in private first. I am open to discuss in private. Thanks Jazak Allah Khair

Important Exception

Some scholars state that when it comes to public figures/leaders, the need for privacy is optional but not necessary, BUT full investigation and research should be done before and false criticism should still NOT be done.

I hope implementing these etiquette and principles will allow more understanding, more friendship, more love, more peace between individuals, societies and among humans as a whole.

Thanks Jazak Allah Khair

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