Islamophobia rampant on Facebook, concludes academic study

26th Aug 2016

Elham Asaad Buaras

Muslim women are a security threat and all Muslims should be deported: that’s the most commonly held anti-Muslim views posted on Facebook, according to a new study published last month.

The Birmingham City University study titled Islamophobia Online: Inside Facebook’s Walls of Hate, unearthed nearly 500 instances of anti-Muslim hate speech in 100 Facebook pages, posts and comments.

Among the 20 most commonly used words to describe Muslims during online tirades are pejorative terms like ‘Muzrats’, ‘Paki’, ‘peado’, ‘rapists’, ‘dirty’, ‘scum’ and ‘filthy’.

As part of the study on Facebook and Islamophobia (conducted between 2013 and 2014), researchers trawled for references to ‘Muslims and Woolwich’, ‘Muslims and Islam’, ‘Muslims and Extremism’, and ‘Muslims and Terrorism’, with the results covering dozens of pages of far-right groups including Britain First, the English Brotherhood and the English Defence League.

Associate Professor at BCU, Dr Imran Awan, who conducted the research found that there were five recurring ways in which Muslims were portrayed during abuse – which he defines as ‘the five walls of Islamophobic hate’.

Among these categories the most frequent abuse depicted Muslim women as security threats due to their clothing (76 instances), followed by the belief that Muslims should be deported (62 instances).

The view of Muslims as terrorists was the third most common (58 instances), with a war with Muslims (53 instances) and Muslims as rapists (45 instances) being the next most often repeated comments.

The analysis revealed that the appalling comments intensified following high profile events such as the Rotherham abuse case, the Trojan Horse scandal and the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby.

These events also triggered an increase in abuse across the globe with the US and Australia seeing a large increase in inflammatory comments posted on pages like Ban Islam in Australia and Ban Islam in America during the aftermath.

Men were found to be much more likely to post abuse with 80 per cent of all comments coming from male users of the site.

The report comes in the wake of Facebook signing up to a new European Union code of conduct which commits it to review and remove online hate speech from its European sites within 24 hours.

Speaking to The Muslim News, Dr Awan who in 2014 conducted an extensive study of Twitter, said, “The aim of this study was to understand the nature of Islamophobia on Facebook and therefore to create a better awareness of the rise of online hate on social media.”

“Social media has been used to target all types of people which includes anti-Semitism, homophobia, gender based misogynistic abuse and so forth.  Islamophobia is also a part of this wider trend of online hate.”

He added that although “Facebook has acknowledged it must do more however its current policy needs to be re-examined with a look at how hateful messages are taken down and also the implications of changing its community guidelines to include racial and religious bigotry.”

He added that distinguishing between offensive yet legal and illegal hate speech “is a major issue because not everything on Facebook is necessarily illegal because of the CPS strict threshold and therefore some of the abuse did not fall into this category.”

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