Islamophobia and the Social Consequences of Social Media
by Emily Kianka
We have all become familiar with Islamophobic sentiment perpetuated through the media. However, the recent Twitter trend #blamethemuslims is particularly interesting and perhaps troubling because it is an example of how Islamophobia can be at times accidentally perpetuated in the public world through social networks. The hashtag has become a popular trend since creator Sanum Ghafoor originally tweeted in reply to the media’s Islamophobic responses to the violence in Norway this past weekend. Ghafoor, a young Muslim woman who lives in the UK, tweeted that she began the trend “to highlight how ridiculous it is to blame Muslims for every problem in the world.” The original tweet was intended to be satirical, yet over the weekend it has sparked a great controversy on Twitter that is still continuing. Some users, misinterpreting the intended meaning of the tag, have used #blamethemuslims to make Islamophobic and racist remarks while others, responding in protest and outrage, have unintentionally perpetuated the hashtag’s reign as one of Twitter’s top trends (#slightlyproblematic?). More recently, an overwhelming number of tweets that use the hashtag intend to clarify the original (satirical) meaning behind the trend and assure other twitter users that it is “not racist.”
Some notable tweets from Twitter users include:
“I #blamethemuslims for advances in science, mathematics, medicine & chemistry. And for developing these 100’s of years before #Christianity.”
“Don’t categorize&generalize a whole group of people for the ignorant decisions of a select few.#blamethemuslims needs to be removed #respect”
“I think one lesson we learned today is that, even if you’re trying to be sarcastic, starting TTs like #blametheMuslims is not a good idea.”
Lastly, and unfortunately, there are a number of tweets that use the hashtag to spread sentiment similar to this:
“The unbeliever who doesn’t suspect the barbaric violence of the Qur’an is much easier to kill or subdue.#blamethemuslims”
This trend undoubtedly raises many questions regarding the social consequences of social media. Has this Twitter trend succeeded, as its originator intended, in spreading awareness about the ridiculous extent to which Muslims are scapegoated? Or does it just provide another way to perpetuate hateful comments and anti-Islam sentiment? Has it at least yielded a productive conversation on Twitter? Or, as I am more apt to argue, has this trend just generated massive misunderstanding? A soundbite such as “blamethemuslims” does not effectively convey its original meaning upon first glance on the “Trends” section of the Twitter homepage. It does not announce itself as intended satire until the Twitter user clicks on the tag, scrolls down the page, and hopefully stumbles across a tweet that is attempting to clarify Ghafoor’s original intentions.
Although it is comforting to learn that this trend was not started by an Islamophobe hoping to unleash a barrage of hate speech against Muslims, the fact that the trend was originally intended by its creator to be satirical does not mean we should ignore the extent to which people have misinterpreted and consequently used it, including those who have tweeted hateful comments and those users who interpreted the trend as one that is intended to be hateful. Perhaps it is time to have a substantial conversation about Twitter and what one can and cannot effectively accomplish in 140 characters or less. Conceivably, this will be a lesson that ironic hashtags on Twitter have the potential to go horribly wrong, or at the very least, will very likely lose their original meaning as they trend and increase in popularity.