According to articles in Alriyadh and Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior denied releasing any statement banning the 50 names that went viral at the end of last week. When I tried tracing the story back to its source, it seemed to follow the same pattern as the Mars One fatwa that never was and so many other crazy fatwa stories: An online English newspaper in the region reports something really crazy and outlandish that happened in Arabic that is then copied almost verbatim by other newspapers without verification. Reporters and readers need to be suspicious whenever something public occurs in the Arab world and in Arabic, yet does not get reported in Arabic media until after it has first gone viral in English. They need to be even more suspicious when all the reports tie back to the same single English report without providing any additional verification or corroboration. The general rule I try to follow for myself is to be suspicious of anything reported on public matters unless the event was reported in the original language by at least two unrelated sources – both before the story become popular.
UPDATE Saudi Gazette was one of the newspapers that reported that the Ministry of the Interior’s Civil Affairs had banned 51 names. They are now reporting the denial of the ban. I applaud them for reporting this denial. If only the papers and people who made the Mars One fatwa go viral had done the same when the alleged source of the fatwa issued an official denouncement.