The United Nations (UN) marked the first-ever International Day to Combat Islamophobia with a special event on March 15, where speakers upheld the need for concrete action in the face of rising hatred, discrimination and violence against Muslims. On this day, it is important to highlight the need for making concrete and conscious efforts in curbing anti-Muslim hate online. In latter half of last year,a report was released which contained worrying trends and numbers of digital islamophobia.A study on the issue of ‘Islamophobia in the digital age: A study of anti-Muslim tweets’ was conducted by the Islamic Council of Victoria, and a report containing their key findings and recommendations had been published. In the said report, the research that was conducted indicated that Islamophobia is more prevalent on the web than it is in real life.The report had stated that according to experts, this growth in digital Islamophobia is fuelling a vicious cycle whereby online expressions of hate incite offline attacks on Muslims, which in turn provoke more online hate. Despite the apparent severity of rising digital Islamophobia, there has been relatively little research into its prevalence and causes, and through this said report, an attempt had been made to change that.
Key Findings of the Report:
The data in the said report had been harnessed using cutting-edge machine learning techniques to automatically identify hateful content. As per their investigation, it had been revealed that there were at least 3,759,180 Islamophobic posts made on Twitter between 28 August, 2019 and 27 August, 2021. Even more concerning, however, wastheir discovery that only a mere 14.83% of anti-Muslim tweets end up being removed. The report provides that even after close to a year, 85% of hateful tweets were still online
The researchers in the said report revealed that a strong correlation existed between spikes in hate and newsworthy events related to Islam, particularly protests, terrorist attacks and eruptions of conflict in the Muslim world to the islamophobic comments made by leaders of the countries. In reference to this, it was provided in the report that the third-largest spike in Islamophobic tweets was observed on February 25, 2020, which was found to be the result of hateful remarks made by leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Muslim protesters of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Further in their report, it was also discovered that nearly 86% of geolocated anti-Muslim posts originated in just three places: India, the US and the UK. With regard to India, the report provided that link to the rampancy of Islamophobia can be made to the fact that the BJP is currently in power. Indeed, from the BJP’s refusal to condemn Ranjeet Bahadur Srivastava’s assertion that ‘the party will bring machines from China to shave 10–12 thousand Muslims and later force them to adopt Hindu religion’ to their passing of a law that discriminatorily deprives Muslim refugees of a pathway to citizenship, there are an endless number of examples of how the BJP has actively normalised hatred towards Muslims such that 55.12% of Islamophobic tweets now originate in India, the report stated.
Discussing the case of the US, the report stated that even although Islamophobia had long been a problem, it was found that it was dramatically exacerbated by the racist, conspiratorial and inflammatory rhetoric employed by Donald Trump. The instance of Trump’s response to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was noted in the report, which had triggered a massive spike in hate on January 3, 2020, with some 9,302 anti-Muslim tweets being made that day. It was also reported that Trump ranked as the third most frequently mentioned user in Islamophobic posts, a great many of which were focused on defending his ban on Muslim immigration, in addition to forwarding his theory that the Democrats were collaborating with ‘the Islamists’ to take over the West.
The report also observed the most common themes in Islamophobic tweets, the most prevalent of which were:
- The association of Islam with terrorism: According to the report, the problem with using terms, such as jihadi, Islamic terrorist, Pakistani, islamist, islamofacist, etc., is that they imply that Islam is in some way connected to terrorism, or at the very least, that the Islamic faith of terrorists is relevant to their actions. And thus, just as their use has grown amongst public officials and news media, so too has that perceived link between Islam and terrorism, leading to the present state of affairs where ‘kill’, ‘attack’ and ‘jihad’ are all some of the most frequently used terms in anti-Muslim tweets
- The depiction of Muslim men as perpetrators of sexual violence:The report provided insight into another major trope observed in Islamophobic tweets, which was the depiction of Muslim men as perpetrators of sexual violence. This usually occurred through the propagation of the ‘love jihad’ theory – defined by Iselin Frydenlund and EvianeLeidig as the ‘conspiratorial notion that Muslim men strategically allure and entrap [typically South Asian] non-Muslim women with the intent to marry and convert them to Islam as part of an Islamization project’.According to the report, the popularity of this theory was such that ‘lovejihad’ ranked as the most frequently used hashtag in Islamophobic tweets, a finding we largely hold the BJP responsible for. Indeed, rather than attempting to dispel the hateful myth, the BJP has effectively endorsed it by, inter alia, passing new ‘love jihad laws’ that criminalise forcible conversions via marriage, the report had stated.
Recommendations given in the report:
The report concludedfrom these findings that radical changes are necessary to both Twitter’s moderation policies and online safety law, without which it is all the more likely that the problem of digital Islamophobia will grow to a point of intractability. Some of the recommendations provided are as follows:
- For Policymakers:
The report recommended that the needs for imposing a statutory duty of care on social media platforms to protect users from Islamophobia as well as introduce penalties for platforms that fail to act to prevent the mass dissemination of anti-Muslim content.
For the Indian government, the report suggested that work towards combatting Islamophobia should be done in understanding that anti-Muslim content produced in India is contributing to the radicalisation of far-right extremists in the West in a vicious cycle of affirmation and amplification.
- For Twitter:
The report suggested that twitter should discontinue the policy of not screening tweets, and instead begin developing new capabilities for the automatic detection and removal of hateful content. Additionally, it is recommended that they should establish an independent oversight body comprised of experts in Islamophobia to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of moderation policies.
The full report can be read here:
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