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The Internet & the Self and How to Overcome It by Dua Aldasouqi

Posted on March 08, 2015

Everything we do has an effect on us; every positive and negative action has some kind of repercussion. We often think of this in terms of bigger issues in our life like how we carry ourselves, the things we buy or the things we won't buy, who we associate with and who we don’t associate with. But, the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said: “No one who has an atom’s weight of arrogance in their heart will enter paradise” [Tirmidhi]. No deed is too small, no action insignificant including the words we say, the photos we post, the tweets we make and their effect on our ego.

The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Facebook first started up when I was a junior in high school. My younger sister, on the other hand, grew up on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, blogs, forums, chat rooms, etc. Even children as young as one are turned into internet superstars before they even know their own name.

The internet like many other things in life is a vessel, neither inherently good nor bad – our interaction with it is what defines it. It is merely important that we recognize its role and in turn its effect on us. It is a part of our lives and we must learn to navigate through.

Everything we put online is recorded both on the internet (which is permanent) and in our book of deeds (which is eternal). This is true whether it is a 140 character tweet, a selfie, a video or link you share. It all matters.

The internet can be divided into two aspects when it comes to our interactions: (1) our own posting and (2) the responses we receive. There is often a discrepancy in our behavior on and offline. It is easy to be cruder, ruder, meaner and even on the other side much nicer in circumstances we normally wouldn’t be like with the opposite gender. To learn how to protect ourselves from turning into someone we are not online, we must understand the “beast” that is the internet.

Why do we lose inhibition online?

From my experience, it boils down to two main concepts: lack of accountability and an overestimation of our own importance. The fact that we are not face to face with an actual person makes it so much easier to be meaner and at the same time nicer. Anonymity also plays a role in the sense that we do not have an image to maintain and cannot be held accountable.

The perception that there are no consequences for our actions leaves us at ease doing the things we normally wouldn’t. The lack of thinking twice about it all makes it that much easier to slip without even realizing it. But, Allah (S) reminds us in the Quran: “So, whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” [99:7-8]. This is referring to our review of deeds on the Day of Judgment and how we will see every single deed, even the smallest deeds imaginable. There is no such thing as no consequence.

Once we have recognized the problem, it is easier to find the solution. There are many things we can do to keep ourselves safe. First and foremost, we must remember that Allah (S) is always watching, regardless of the presence of others. We are always accountable, but as humans our faith ebbs and flows so there are some other things we can try as well so we are safe even during times of weakness:

  1. Set up a protocol before each post. This will be different from person to person, if you are more spontaneous maybe give yourself a 30 minute window from when you decide to post something to when you actually post it or ask yourself a few questions before you post something, this is what I personally do.
  2. Use a buddy. Find a friend that you trust and that knows you well and ask for their feedback.
  3. Review what you post from time to time (preferably with someone else). Umar bin Alkhattab (RA) advises us to hold ourselves accountable before we are held accountable. So review your online activity and see if you recognize positive or negative changes.

The second aspect is where we must guard our heart and ego strongest: the responses we receive. Social media is designed with responses in mind – likes, reposts, and shares. Peer pressure is real and is manifested and amplified online, although often times indirectly. For example, a photo that receives more likes on Instagram affects the next photo you post. The ego is very fragile and easily swayed. Another problem is that the responses and love we receive online get to our head and we feed off of it. We become egotistical and we overvalue ourselves. We start to think that we too are important, that our opinion really does matter, that we can provide feedback on everything. We suddenly feel like we have a right to comment on a quantum physics dissertation even though we failed high school physics.

There are three practical tips we can implement to protect ourselves here. The first is to leave positive feedback for others; promoting others helps humble your ego. It reminds you that there is good in everyone, that there is even better in others. The second is to remind ourselves of our origins, that we are nothing ourselves. The third is a reminder that what I publicly share is only a small part of me and Abu Bakr (RA, the Prophet Mohammad's closest companion) would say a beautiful prayer when he received praise:

“اللهم لا تؤاخذني بما يقولون واغفر لي مالا يعلمون واجعلني خيرا مما يظنون”

“Oh Allah, do not call me to account for what they say and forgive me for what they have no knowledge of and make me better than they imagine.”

Dua Aldasouqi of Dua Writes is an American Palestinian raised in Michigan. She is an enthusiastic blogger, poet and foodie. She is currently a student at Qalam Institute's Islamic seminary program in Dallas, TX. You can check out her work on her site: www.duawrites.com, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tumbler at @duawrites.

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