Action needed to tackle “rampant” social media Islamophobia

Islamophobia in social media is “rampant” and both government and the police must do more to tackle the swathe of harassment suffered by Muslims trying to engage in legitimate online debate, a Birmingham City University expert said.

Publishing a report into ‘Online Hate against Muslims on Social Media', Imran Awan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, revealed that ‘Muslim Paedos’, Muslim terrorists’ and ‘Muslim scum’ are the three most used Islamophobic terms used to attack Twitter users.

Mr Awan said: “This study shows that both government and the police need to do much more to tackle the rampant online abuse and harassment Muslims are suffering, often purely because they are engaging in social media in the same way as anyone else. The problem has been particularly extreme since the murder of soldier Lee Rigby last year in Woolwich, which appears to have prompted a sharp spike in online anti-Muslim hate."

The Birmingham City University academic undertook the Twitter-based study to find out if well documented physical Islamophobia-related incidents following the Woolwich murder were being replicated in the virtual world. 

The rare study into the rise in online Islamophobia revealed ‘Eight Faces of Hate’ that characterise anti-Muslim cyber trolls. 

Three hashtags – #Woolwich, #Muslim and #Islam – were used to examine patterns of online Islamophobia on Twitter, having appeared on the Twitter search engine as words that had recently ‘trended’ in the UK. 

From the data collected, the majority of tweets (72 percent) were posted by males and over 75 percent of the tweets examined displayed a strong Islamophobic feeling, whereby people made use of Muslim stereotypes to justify their abuse. 

Mr Awan highlighted the example of Twitter users being open about their anger and hatred for all Muslims as a result of recent cases surrounding minority groups of Asian men who were convicted of grooming underage girls. 

He identified a series of reappearing words and phrases that were used to describe Muslims in a negative manner. These included: ‘Muslim Paedos’ (30 percent), ‘Muslim terrorists’ (22 percent), ‘Muslim scum’ (15 percent), ‘Pisslam’ (10 percent) and Muslim pigs’ (9 percent). 

Imran Awan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University, said: "This study highlights how Islamophobia is well and truly present, and often rife, in the virtual environment, in addition to the many cases we hear about featuring offline abuse. Online Islamophobia should be considered a genuine and worrying threat to people who have a right to take part in online debates without fear of threats or abuse.”