Islam on Social Media
In April, 2019, a social media poster encouraging the report of Islamophobic hate crimes was designed in Bristol (BBC News, 2019). The poster consisted police numbers to contact whenever a Muslim experienced anti-Muslim hate comments online or through mail, physical or verbal attack, attacks on property, and Islamophobic graffiti. This poster comes at the peak of the spread of Islamophobia on social media, instigated by the recent series of terrorism attacks experienced across the world. Every terrorist attack has added an entire layer of hatred on social media not only among the attacked community but beyond. Although not all terrorism attacks have been perpetrated by Muslims, the stereotypical association of Muslim to terrorism has encouraged a massive spread of Islamophobia on social media.
The recent debilitating terrorism attack at Christchurch in New Zealand is one of the events that demonstrated disturbing levels of anti-Muslim attitudes in parts of the world. Terrorism attacks that feature Muslims as the assailants have sparked rage against the Muslim community and the Islam religion. However, in the Christchurch shooting, which left 52 dead, the attacker was identified as a White man (Lin, 2019). While the incident attracted overwhelming sympathy from people from all walks of life, others seemed to celebrate the attack against the Muslims who were at the Moques, praising the attacker. In China, for instance, Lin notes that Islamophobia on social media intensified after the Christchurch shooting (2019). The mainstream coverage on Twitter was flooded with anti-Muslim comments and praise for the shooter. In a video clip posted by China’s largest news largest People’s Daily, the top comment, which had innumerable likes, had likened Muslims to “cancer cells” (Lin, 2019). The People’s Daily’s comment section is heavily censored because it is a state official paper. Lin baffles at the fact that the anti-Muslim hate comment had not been censored.
The spread of anti-Islam attitudes on social media has attracted great research. For instance, Awan conducted a study to examine Islamophobia on social media, with a special focus on Facebook (2016). Facebook, which is among the largest social media platforms, is a breeding space for hate crimes. Using Word Cloud technology, Awan investigated 100 Facebook pages, posts, and comments. The Word Cloud frequency captured key words like Paedo, scum, terrorists, rapists, Muzrats, Paki, and filthy in relation to Islam or Muslims (Awan, 2019). The words had been used between 7 and 44 times, with the highest mentions being dirty, halal, and Paki. Awan also cites a 2014 research by a non-profit organization, Faith Matters, which revealed similar frequencies of the use of such words in relation to Islam or Muslims (2019). In 2013, the Online Hate Center published a report on Islamophobia, which revealed 349 different forms of hate speech among 50 Facebook pages (Awan, 2019). These findings reveal how Islamophobia is commanding its authority in the online space.
The stereotypical associations of Islam to terrorism have spawned hatred against the religion on social media. Anti-Muslim attitudes have escalated online with every terrorism attack, even those perpetrated by non-Muslims. Besides such incidents being reported on by news channels, empirical data has shown the height of Islamophobia in the online space. There is need to combat anti-Muslim hate crimes because they have severe psychological, emotional, and physical effects on the victims. Measures like Bristol’s social media poster should be accompanied by strict monitoring of online content to censor and charge those who commit the hate crimes.
BBC News. (2019, April 5). Social media to tackle under-reported Islamophobia in Bristol. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-47817920.
Awan, I. (2016, Jan.). Islamophobia on Social Media – A qualitative analysis of the Facebook’s walls of hate. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 10(1), 1-20. Retrieved from https://www.cybercrimejournal.com/ImranAwanvol10issue1IJCC2016.pdf.
Lin, T. (2019, March 21). After New Zealand massacre, Islamophobia spreads on Chinese social media. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved from https://www.cjr.org/analysis/weibo-new-zealand-massacre.php