The widely circulating story “Syrian Girl stoned to death for using Facebook” is fake 14

725b37006105f102ffa4eae21d9b2912The claim is that in the Syrian city of Rakka, a girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, was sentenced to death by stoning by the Al-Reqqa religious court after ISIL militants took her to the court.

You are being played – this is not a factual story at all, but is instead pure war propaganda.

It may indeed be tempting to believe this, but if you dig then you will soon find a huge problem … namely the source. It appears to originally come from the Iranian FARS News Agency. We have copies of more or less the same story circulating as “truth” … for example here, and copies of that are now popping up in Facebook and being shared, but FARS is simply not a reliable source and nobody has verified it. Remember now, FARS are the same guys who re-printed a story from The Onion as fact, and also printed weird stories about time machines and aliens … yes really.

OK, so what facts do we actually know.

  • We know that ISIL is widely hated now even within the Sunni opposition and so its opponents would have every incentive to make up stories about it.
  • I am not aware of any Islamic group that would consider the use of Facebook as something that merits death, some do of course frown upon it and discourage its use, and even shun those within their community who ignored that guidance, but death …no.
  • The group in question that is claimed to have dished out the death sentence has in fact got its own Facebook page, so the claim that they issue death sentences for Facebook usage is simply not credible.

So is there any really good independence source for the claim, for example an NGO interview with her family verifying that it really happened?

In a word … no, and until there is, then this story needs to be treated with the appropriate degree of skepticism and dismissed as propaganda.

The war in Syria is not just being fought on the ground with physical weapons, but is also being fought in cyberspace, and so there is a constant flow of propaganda coming out from all the different factions and sides in Syria. As a result it is effectively impossible to determine whether anything is true or not.

My advice … consider this claimed stoning and all other similar stories from all sides to be propaganda until actually verified by an independent NGO.

It is easy to be skeptical about the things you do not actually agree with, but what do you do when you find an unverified item that appears to confirm what you already know. Critics of Islam and other forms of irrational belief know that there are strands of Islamic thinking that are not just intolerant, but are also very violent, and so this stoning story plays right into that and confirms it, so there can be a considerable degree of temptation to simply “believe” without really thinking, “Is this actually true?”.

Now pause and think … when you first heard the stoning story .. did you believe it?

My secondary point here, beyond the fact that the stoning story is actually fake, is that it is very easy for humans to simply pick up and run with items that confirm a previously held belief. It does not make us stupid or ignorant, but rather just human, because we are all prone to doing this.

This is why nurturing critical thinking matters, and why it is important to not simply accept everything thrown at you, but to also consider asking yourself, “Is this really true?”, even if it is something that appears to confirm what you already believe to be true.


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