When Twitter gets it wrong

Published: February 11, 2012

Ordinary citizens are never short of spreading rumors or incorrect news online. PHOTO: AFP

I spend an average of 14 hours online every day. During this time, I monitor stories on different news sites, wires stories, Twitter and various other sources. Being in the news business, you can gauge where the news is wrong and where factual inaccuracies are coming from, which (newsflash) happens often.

From politicians to opinion makers to senior journalists, factual errors and incorrect news is nothing new but it isn’t only media folk who are to blame. The online community itself is also part of this phenomenon. While ordinary citizens are never short of spreading rumors or incorrect news online (coup rumours anyone?) the community in their attempts to play the role of a media watchdog has also gotten ahead of itself on multiple occasions.

Fact-checking is skipped, a practice that makes mountains out of molehills when news starts to spread like wildfire. This often results in damage. But is anyone held accountable for their actions? Rarely.

While the internet is a powerful tool that can be used to further causes, a trend has emerged in recent times to misuse it. A recent example is the online petition against Geo News’ Najam Sethi. The petition, which carries more than 650 signatures, alleges that Sethi made “false claims” and attempted to “defame” Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf by calling his ex-wife Jemima Khan a Jew. While the senior journalist did indeed refer to Jemima Khan as a “Jewish woman” , is his statement something that should launch an online campaign? Is this campaign being led by the right people?

I don’t mean to defend anyone or demean a cause. My point is that we need to use online activism intelligently. The Maya Khan case is one example where it was used in a constructive manner and produced positive results. Do all cases merit a campaign, that too, one that ends in the removal of those against whom action is sought?

Most people on Twitter also choose to tweet information that they have received, and most of the time this information is unverified. After an hour or so of the tweet making the rounds, it disappears once the person who posted it realizes it is incorrect. Recently, rumors of a military coup in Pakistan were started by someone who heard there was troop movement in Islamabad. Interestingly, the government-run APP has also fallen into the trap of misreporting or failure to check the report if you will.

Besides this, many tweets and Facebook status updates can technically be construed as defamation, invasion of privacy and a whole host of other worrisome legal grey areas. It is important for citizens to look at their own actions when calling others out.

So the next time you start an online campaign, make sure you do your research and choose your course of action wisely.

Read more by Shaheryar here. Follow him @spopalzai.

Shaheryar Popalzai

Shaheryar Popalzai

A sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad Raza

    To me Najm Sethi is like Fox News’ Delusional Puppet…!! Who think he’s Mr All-Knowing.. Old lecturer who think he has figured out all. Who look domw every one as their students schooling them. The truth that might be is, that he’s making his money giving lectures all-over. Sometimes in London Sometimes in Washington….though nothing wrong in making money that way but please spare us conspiracy theories.
    This whole scheme of and “older Jurno” answering “young-cool-looking-Dumbo” is getting worn out. Recommend

  • Salahuddin

    how can you deny something when you have seen it in front of your eyes??? do i have to check whether the twitter account belonged to najam sethi or something? Give me a break.Recommend

  • Javed Zia

    I too do believe that Najm Sethi has gone overboard he seems to know everything not only in Pakistan but around the world and has solutions.Calling Jemima Khan as a Jewish women is really not showing any respect to the women I will also sign the Geo online petition as we had enough of Mr.Sethi. Recommend

  • Arsalan Ghumman

    This is so strange. I usually see people tweeting against religious bigotry. It seems that now Journalists especially those who are on twitter have become Holy Cows, that when some one criticizes or question them for their distorted facts, they call you as bully or trolls. This is really a strange situation. Najam Sethi clearly said that Imran Khan married a Jew Woman which is an open distorted fact. Imran Khan had married to a Muslim lady (Jemima had already embraced Islam before getting married), neither Jemima was Jew before Islam.
    Najam Sethi in his tweet to clarify it, asked all to Google for ‘facts’ and see newspapers in which Jemima was mentioned as “Jew Heiress”. I am amazed to see how can a senior journalist would recommend such an dubious search.Recommend

  • Hassan

    I signed the petition.
    I suggest you do the same.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/remove-najam-sethiRecommend

  • Raj

    How does it matter whether she is a Jew or not? Does it change the fact that she is a human being? Why does Pakistanis criticize other countries when they themselves are of total disregard of others’ belief and heritage to the extent that they refuse to coexist with the same. Recommend

  • Pakitani

    Jamima Khan IS a Jew. What’s wrong if Najam Sethi called her that? You are just taking it in the wrong context.Recommend

  • http://natashasuleman.wordpress.com Natasha Suleman

    Oh these anti-Semite Pakistanis. Jemima is not a Jew but even if she had been one ,how does calling her one lead to IK’s DEFAMATION?! How sick of these petitioners!

    Jemima should apologize for being unfair to Najam Sethi and should learn to verify a news before attacking people. Recommend

  • http://natashasuleman.wordpress.com Natasha Suleman

    Funny people arent talking about FazlurRehman and are targetting Sethi who believes Khan shouldve been more vociferous while dealing with FRs lies about his kids/Jemima.Recommend

  • Naseem Islam

    For whom such things matter, our prophet Mohammad’s wife Bibi Safiya was Jewish before her marriage . My ancestors as of majority of Pakistani’s, were Hindu’s.So what’s the big deal. Irony is that Imran Khan is politically religious. I had high hopes for Imran Khan but his religious bent makes me nervous.Religion should remain a personal matter. Politics should have nothing to do with religion.Recommend

  • http://liberalfacist.blogspot.com/ Nadir

    Why isnt there a petition against Maulana Fazl ur Rehman who called Imran Khan and PTI agents of a “jewish” conspiracy? Recommend

  • Hafsa

    So lets assume Sethi referred to her as Jewish heiress. Whats wrong with that? Its no more a defamation than calling someone a Muslim.

    Jemima might have converted to Islam now but she has a mixed Jewish, Catholic & Protestant ancestary so the adjective ‘Jewish’ can be applied.

    People panicking at the term ‘Jewish’ are just as stupid as those right-wing Americans who fear Obama might be a ‘Moozlem’

    The world might become a better place if people learn to use their brain & think before they cry murder.Recommend

  • Khan

    This is not a rumour, this is Najam Sethi we are talking about

    Let me state exactly, what had happened:

    JohnDoe1: @NajamSethi Jemima was NOT a jew.her grandfather was a jew.she WAS a christian!(Sethi shb said k IK married a jew)

    NS @JohnDoe1 Frankly, the matter is irrelevant to me but not to religious people. The media said she was a “Jewish heiress”

    Moments later…

    JohnDoe2: Whatta Try To distort facts To say IK married a jew woman even her father wasn’t jew he Was catholic ..u better b careful

    @NS: @JohnDoe2 Brit media described Jemima as a “jewish heiress”. Google her. But it doesn’t matter. Love transcends. Didn’t she convert to Islam?

    The martial law rumour was started by some trolls with avatars from a porn movie. Do they deserve any serious attention – of course not!

    But Najam Sethi is a news anchor in one of the most televised channels in Pakistan. He has mentioned a statement that has been proven wrong many times in the past decade.

    Do you have any assurance that after reading these statements from a senior news editor, a religious fanatic will not cause any harm to Jemima Khan and her family?

    Firstly, as a senior journalist, NS should not have mentioned a statement regarding Jemima’s religion.

    Secondly the matter would have been different if Najam Sethi had just said,
    “Sorry Jemima Khan, I used the wrong information, Jemima was a Christian, and is now a Muslim”… instead he went on a rampage against comments from some unwanted trolls.

    This scenario is quite different from other rumours circulating the social media.

    The statement from NS was careless and placed Khan-family’s life in danger. We have already seen this happen with Salman Taseer, their should be no tolerance for such negligent behaviour, again.

    The petition is fully justified and I signed it.Recommend

  • Khan

    For everybody’s information, in his interview with Hamid Mir, Fazl-ur-Rehman never said that Jemima is a Jew.

    Infact, when Hamid Mir mentioned that Jemima is not a jew, Fazl hurriedly replied that i never said she is a jew, but her children are studying in a jewish school – which is a totally absurd argument even if it is true.

    Nonetheless, it would be wrong to blame Fazl-ur-Rehman for this, Najam Sethi is the one who acted carelessly.Recommend

  • Jan

    Interesting……………., Well for those who believe that NOTHING wrong in calling anyone Jew OR Muslim etc, should realise the fact that Religion is sold and bought as HOT CAKE in Pakistan and its NOT a simple issue of calling someone from a specific religious background carries a serious meaning and wieghtage – unfortunately, its not that simple. Molana Fazlo is as successfully selling Islam as he did Diesel Permits and now he, like many other corrupts, fears that their DOOMSDAY is not far and from his “so called” religious leadership, he is trying to get the maximum as he has been getting historically, by fooling simple and half educated people (like him but not cunning enough).

    Najam Seithi deserves to be condemned not just for calling Jemima a Jew but for his attitude towards Imran in general – which has changed quite a bit though after the recent popularity of the party (PTI). I would definitely support the petition against him and many other like him or even more poisonous one – IRFAN SIQQIQUI & ATA UL HAQ QASMI (I call them both, bought for service…don*s). These two will not avoid going to any meanest possible level to malign Imran and please their AAQA, Nawaz Shareef. Recommend

  • Anthony Permal

    Everyone has an opinion, including me, and we all think we are right. When someone shows us how our opinion stinks, we pretend the smell is from the person showing it to us.

    We sign petitions like people sign team birthday cards in companies: mob mentality. Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad

    Your blog has exactly the opposite effect. People do not think with their brains anymore. Instead, you have provided the platform for PTI supporters. I know this wasn’t your purpose. But, as you see, people have taken something completely out of context and have started accusing him of something which he didn’t even mean. This is sad state of affairs. If this is the youth which wants to bring change, then we are doomed.Recommend

  • Ammar

    I don’t get it, What’s wrong with being Jewish ? Aren’t jews humans ?
    I can bet they might be better humans than many here like Najam sethi.Recommend

  • American

    The petition is not about people getting upset over Sethi declaring Jemima to be of a certain religion. That doesn’t matter.

    The petition is against Sethi for pushing false information. If he is reporting FALSE info, especially personal info for the possible incentive of character defamation, its wrong no matter what. And he seems to have a pattern of doing this. People are sick of it, so they want him gone, end of story. Recommend

  • American

    @Usman: until now I had not seen one mention of PTI until you came along. Is that all you think about? To be very honest, the people against PTI do far more trolling than the PTI supporters. Recommend

  • Omair

    The point of this article is: Najam did not say what people thought he did. Please do your rsearch. As Pakistanis we have become so entrenched in ignorance we just jump to conclusions. Please watch the clip before you make such remarks. Sethi said nothing of the sort. He quoted Maulana Fazl ur Rahman’s bigoted opinion of Imran Khan and his ex wife with her (half) Jewish connection. Not that it matters to any sane person. Sethi is a genuine liberal and a man of strong integrity, he would never stoop to such ridiculous bigotry. Recommend

  • Rabia

    oh for gods sake…whats the big deal??? we are are killing Ahamdis and Shias in Pakistan and do we really give a damn if Jemima is called a Jew or Not!! grow up! Petition is for things to improve in Pakistan not to stroke one’s ego! Very well written Shehryar!Recommend

  • http://www.salmanlatif.wordpress.com Salman Latif

    Dear PTI nincompoops,
    Please know that more people who matter (read fundamentalists, terrorists etc etc) listen to Fazlur Rehman than Najam Sethi. So why didn’t you have balls enough to launch a petition against Fazlur Rehman? Oh I forgot PTI kids seem to have a ‘soft corner’ for all things bearded. My bad. Apologies.
    Regards,Recommend

  • Arsalan Ghumman

    @Salman Latif

    You must be kidding my friend. PTI having soft corner for Maulana Diesel ? That’s enough to make me laugh. Watch Imran Khan’s comment on Maulana Diesel in his recent Press Conferences. Recommend

  • http://Lahore Muhammad Talha

    If it’s all propaganda than Jemima or Imran should confirm and endorse his point of view on the matter. Otherwise we are bound to accept that she is Jewish by birth and by her family. By her appearance and current status of living portrays the real fact of the western lobby.
    Please try to accept the realities and the truth without prejudice.Recommend

  • Abhi

    I think people shouting at Najam Sethi are same who found it very instulting when democrates denied Obama being muslim.Recommend

  • Sajid

    Guys, for your information, “Jewish” is an ethnicity and not a religion. Not many of you seem to know that. So if Jemimah’s great grandfather was Jewish, she too is Jewish regardless of what her religion is. All this crying is like saying this this guy is not African, he is muslim. Recommend

  • LOK

    Sethi Sb rocks…Recommend

  • Faraz

    Oh for god’s sake, get your “FACTS” right. She was a protestant christian and converted to Islam after marrying Imran. I don’t know what religion she follows now.Recommend