The practice of purchasing Twitter followers is not only causing controversy for Real Housewives and presidential candidates. In Saudi Arabia, a senior cleric has condemned the practice as “dishonest and mendacious”, following a revelation that several high-profile Saudis were buying “phantom followers”.
While we mock the surfeit of fatwas emanating from the Saudi clergy – tackling everything from personal grooming to Mickey Mouse – this one seemed to genuinely hit the nail on the head. Prior to his pronouncement, the manager of a Saudi marketing company had told the press that it had sold “bundles” of Twitter followers, Facebook fans and YouTube “likes” to “sportsmen, businessmen, poets and clerics”, but preferred not to name names. Soon after this revelation, Sheikh Abdullah declared that not only was buying Twitter followers really sad, it was also sinful and dishonest.
The term “fatwa” may conjure up images of death sentences and men demonstrating with effigies on spikes, but at its most prosaic, a fatwa is merely a religious opinion that deems something to be unacceptable – the Sheikh simply issued a sobering condemnation of online behaviour and the excesses of social networking.