Egypt fatwa takes aim at Facebook ‘likes’ used by many businesses

Updated 18 April 2018
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Egypt fatwa takes aim at Facebook ‘likes’ used by many businesses

  • The religious decree drew mixed reactions from ambitious youngsters who rely heavily on Facebook to promote their products
  • Grand Mufti Shawki Allam posted on the Facebook page of Dar Al-Ifa, the Sunni Muslim institution in charge of religious rulings, earlier this week

JEDDAH: A fatwa issued by Egypt’s top mufti saying that buying “likes” on the social media network Facebook is prohibited under Islam because it is a form of fraud has stirred controversy in Egypt.

Grand Mufti Shawki Allam posted on the Facebook page of Dar Al-Ifa, the Sunni Muslim institution in charge of religious rulings, earlier this week and said it was “religiously prohibited” to pay someone to click a “like” on a promotion.

He said in a statement carried by local media that buying fake Facebook likes was tantamount to fraud. The mufti was commenting on a growing trend among young entrepreneurs who use the network to market their businesses.

“If those ‘likes’ are coming through ads or paid promotions on Facebook so that the ad can reach as many users as possible for a certain amount of money, then this is religiously permitted,” Allam said.

“But if those likes are fake and do not reflect the true number of users who saw the ad, then it’s religiously prohibited. The latter case is a sort of fraud that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, stressed is haram when he said ‘He who deceives is not of us’,” Allam said.

While the religious decree has not resonated with ordinary social media users, it drew mixed reactions from ambitious youngsters who rely heavily on Facebook to promote their products.

The platform has emerged as a powerful promotion tool in recent years, given its huge popularity across society. It is also less costly than other means of promotion, such as ads on television and in newspapers.

“I personally agree with what the mufti has said. I think this case is clear-cut,” said Somaia Wael, a makeup artist who is creating a Facebook page to promote herself.

“I’m just about to start and I clearly cannot afford at this stage any sort of unfair competition. I would be crushed by the established makeup artists who buy fake likes on their pages. So I really hope the mufti’s fatwa will convince many to abandon this action. Otherwise, I will have no other option but to follow suit and buy fake likes myself, although I really believe that it’s haram,” she said.

A tech-savvy youngster who helps companies to buy Facebook likes to increase his reach said his job was an essential part of the social media world. 

When contacted by Arab News, he said he would never give up what he was doing. “I respect religion and the mufti but it’s not really a big deal. Who would get harmed if a Facebook page gets more likes? No one,” he said.

Facebook ads in Egypt can reach more than 30 million users, the majority aged between 25 and 35. According to experts, there are millions of Egyptian Facebook accounts that are fake and have been used to drive “likes” or manipulate interest and demand.

 

(With agencies)

FASTFACTS


Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court

After initially opposing the information’s release, the federal government reversed course after the Argus Leader took it to court and won. (AFP)
Updated 21 April 2019
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Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court

  • Luther, who now works for InvestigateTV, said it’s “transparency 101” that “taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going”
  • The Trump administration is backing the grocery stores in arguing against the information’s release

WASHINGTON: In the summer of 2010, reporters at South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper decided to request data about the government’s food assistance program, previously known as food stamps. They thought the information could lead to a series of stories and potentially help them identify fraud in the now $65 billion-a-year program.
They sent a stream of what they thought were routine requests for information to Washington.
Government officials eventually sent back some information about the hundreds of thousands of stores nationwide where the food program’s participants could use their benefits. But the government withheld information reporters saw as crucial: how much each store received annually from the program.
Trying to get that data has taken the paper more than eight years and landed it at the Supreme Court, which will hear the case Monday.
Argus Leader news director Cory Myers, who directs a staff of 18 at the Sioux Falls paper, says getting the information is about “knowing how our government is operating” and “knowing what government is doing with our tax money.”
A supermarket trade association opposing the information’s release argues that the information being sought is confidential. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case could be narrow or could significantly affect the interpretation of a law that grants the public access to government records.
The Argus Leader is owned by USA Today publisher Gannett and is the largest newspaper in South Dakota. It wrote about the government’s initial release of information. But Jonathan Ellis, one of the reporters behind the requests, said there’s more to learn if the paper gets what it’s seeking.
Ellis said he would like to write about the companies who profit the most from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , called SNAP. He would like to analyze how successful efforts to involve farmers’ markets in the program have been. And he is still hoping to use the data to identify stores that seem like outliers, an indication of potential fraud.
Megan Luther, the other reporter behind the requests, said the paper has been fighting for the information for reasons beyond “there’s a good story there.” Luther, who now works for InvestigateTV, said it’s “transparency 101” that “taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going.”
The paper has gotten close to getting the data before.
After initially opposing the information’s release, the federal government reversed course after the Argus Leader took it to court and won. But the Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute , a trade association representing grocery stores and supermarket chains, stepped in to continue the fight. The group lost an appeal, and the paper hoped it would soon get the data. Then the Supreme Court took the case.
The Food Marketing Institute, which declined interviews before Monday’s arguments, has said in court papers that the public already has access to a lot of data about SNAP. But SNAP sales data by store is confidential “much the same way how much business grocers do in cash, credit, debit, checks or even gift cards is confidential,” wrote Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a blog post last month.
To decide whether the information should be released, the Supreme Court will have to interpret the federal Freedom of Information Act .
It gives citizens, including reporters, access to federal agencies’ records with certain exceptions. In the Argus Leader’s case, the US Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, argued that disclosing the data the paper sought was barred by FOIA’s “exemption 4.” It tells the government to withhold “confidential” “commercial or financial information” obtained from third parties.
It will be up to the court to determine whether what the paper is seeking counts as “confidential.”
The Trump administration is backing the grocery stores in arguing against the information’s release. The Associated Press is among dozens of media organizations that have signed a legal brief supporting the Argus Leader.
Myers, the Argus Leader’s news director, said that in the years it has taken for the paper’s case to reach the Supreme Court, the paper has continued to do the kind of investigative reporting it was attempting to do in seeking the SNAP data.
In South Dakota, he said, “there are more stories and more malfeasance than one newsroom can root out, but we certainly try.”
The case is 18-481 Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media.