November 13, 2014

Hashtag activists battle online anti-Muslim speech, but #DoesItWork?

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Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of Linda Sarsour

Logo_Google_072414(RNS) ISIS terrorist rampages, waves of anti-Muslim hate speech and fear-mongering Islamophobia are inspiring an outburst of online activism in the form of Twitter hashtags.

The question is: Does it work, especially over the long term?

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of Linda Sarsour

An army of “clicktivists” — a mix of earnest advocates and pointed satirists — has entered the fray armed with 140-character positive, peaceful or humorous counter-messages.

Using names such as #TakeOnHate, #ISpeakOutBecause, and #NotInMyName, the pushback approach promotes the complexity, diversity and positive contributions of Islam and Muslims. Others, such as #MuslimApologies, offer sarcasm in service of the same message.

Yet the hashtags are often immediately co-opted by trolls spewing an opposite message. And some experts question whether clicktivist campaigns have lasting worth.

Linda Sarsour has no doubt they do. She’s a Brooklyn-based Palestinian activist in the streets and on social media and a co-creator of #TakeOnHate. The hashtag is accompanied by a resource website, launched in March by the National Network for Arab American Communities.

“The insidious thing about anti-Arab hate speech is that it seems to be acceptable, where the ‘N-word’ or anti-Semitic remarks are not taken with the same degree of outrage,” said Sarsour, who was chased down the street in September by a man who was later arrested for threatening to behead her. 

“Hashtags are temporary, but knowledge is not temporary… Once you learn something, you won’t forget you had that experience, that conversation. And you don’t have to wait for national TV to call to get your message out,” said Sarsour, noting that #TakeOnHate sees Twitter spikes whenever she’s on the airwaves.

She is a fan of the tongue-in-cheek #MuslimApologies, which shows “how ridiculous this is when you ask for 1.8 billion Muslims to apologize for a small group of people who are horrific.”

#MuslimApologies has small circulation — fewer than 5,000 tweets since Oct. 13, according to the Twitter analytics site Topsy.

@falasteenager tweeted “I’m sorry that Adolf Hitler doesn’t represent Germany, but Osama Bin Laden represents every Muslim and their mother.” In a video circulated by several tweeters, an unnamed man says, “I apologize for World War I and World War II, even if it has nothing to do with Muslims, but just in case.” 

The hashtag parallels the more serious #NotInMyName campaign, in which people recite all the ways they reject terrorism in the name of Islam.

This isn’t the first clicktivist debut of #NotInMyName. The New York Times observed that the same slogan was used in 2003 to oppose the Iraq war and by Israelis this summer who condemned the war in Gaza.

The Active Change Foundation, a community organization in East London devoted to quelling street crime, gangs and violent extremism, also adopted #NotInMyName after the beheading of journalists and a British aid worker.

“Young Muslims are adding their voices to the fight-back against ISIS,” reads the campaign’s website. “#notinmyname gives you the opportunity to denounce their violent actions in your own words. Let your voice be heard rejecting the ideology of hate.”

So far, although tweets per day are down from nearly 1,000 to fewer than 400 since Oct. 13, according to Topsy, tweets in line with the hashtag’s original mission are running roughly even with trolls posting attacks.

Not so for the #ISpeakOutBecause hashtag campaign started by the Muslim Public Affairs CouncilIt began in August by inviting people on Facebook and Twitter “to tell the world why you are not afraid to speak out.” The Facebook page survived, but #ISpeakOutBecause has essentially devolved into a river of insults and denigration. 

“The trolls organized immediately — almost the first day,” said Riham Osman, MPAC’s communications coordinator. “Initially, we fought back, but it was overwhelming.”

Osman said the lesson she learned is that hashtag efforts work if you can pinpoint an exact target, reach people with the power to make change and tell them exactly what you want.

She cites an example: After Wal-Mart advertised a “scary Muslim” costume for Halloween featuring a shaggy gray beard, skullcap and South Asian waist coat, Twitter outrage drove the retailer to dump the item.

Osman said ideas such as combating Islamophobia “are an easy target for hijackers because they are very broad. (The) free speech umbrella covers hate speech as well.”

Hate speech’s power resides in its ability to provoke fear, said Robert Perez, a branding and messaging strategist focused on social-change communications and founder of Wonderforgood.com.

“When fear is activated in your brain, it’s like loud emotional noise that almost drowns out your ability to empathize with others,” he said.

“Hearts-and-minds campaigns have to address fear. Hashtag campaigns are unlikely to lessen anxiety, fear and misinformation,” he said.

But that’s hard to do in a tweet, particularly when often the only people who see it are your personal followers who already agree with you.

“Not a lot of Americans know Muslims as friends and neighbors, so their understanding of Islam and Muslims is shaped by negative views. That gives a very distorted impression,” Perez said. “To help people have a fuller, more accurate and authentic understanding, we need to show stories, and bring people to face to face dialogue.”

Clicktivism’s success can’t be evaluated by tweet/retweet counts but by its contribution to the complicated matrix of social change, said sociologist Jen Schradie.

Clicktivism success can’t be evaluated by tweet/retweet counts but by its contribution to the complicated matrix of social change, said sociologist Jen Schradie. Photo courtesy of Jen Schradie, via Toulouse School of Economics

Clicktivism success can’t be evaluated by tweet/retweet counts but by its contribution to the complicated matrix of social change, said sociologist Jen Schradie. Photo courtesy of Jen Schradie, via Toulouse School of Economics

Schradie, a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the Toulouse School of Economics in France, studies the intersection of technology with social movements. “Social change happens for a lot of reasons, often through concerted efforts of organizations and through offline activism,” she said.

Even so, “it’s critical to confront hate speech,” and social media can allow someone who has never participated in the public conversation before to take a bold stance.

Ultimately, attention matters — for ill and for good.

Attention has never been powerless,” said sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  She looked into the aftermath of the #bringbackourgirls campaign. (So far, Boko Haram still has hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls and the viral hashtag traffic has subsided.)

Tufekci flips this around, asking: “What happens when attention itself is part of the reward structure for the cruel? … Attention, to a terrorist group, is often what the well-meaning, outraged response is to your two-bit Internet troll: it is the food that feeds them.”

Even so, Tufekci concluded in an essay for “Medium,” an idea-sharing essay site: “Despair and throwing up one’s hands in disgust is … the luxury of the unafflicted.”

KRE/MG END GROSSMAN

  • Dave V

    ” . . . the pushback approach promotes the complexity, diversity and positive contributions of Islam and Muslims.”

    Where or when in history, has Islam and Muslims been inclusive, tolerant, positive of anyone or anything not Islamic or Muslim? Islam as a religion is incredibly intolerant of anything or anyone else. It is even FAR WORSE as a political power.

    If Muslims want to be nice to non-Muslims, or Kafir as they call us . . . they should all go back and live in “Islamic” countries and let those of us the reject Islam and are insulted by Mohammad and his views and his god Allah (which is a crime in Islamic countries that can get you the death penalty), live out our lives in peace and safety from being attacked and killed by Muslims.

    Islam and Muslims has/have a VERY CONSISTENT HISTORY of subjugating and slaughtering anyone that does not “submit” to Islamic totalitarianism.

    No amount of idiotic comparisons to “other religions doing bad things” can make Islam safe for any person on earth that wants to reject it and be free of its authoritarian rule.

    In all reality, “scary Muslim costumes” are worn for real by real Muslims worldwide.

    “Not in my name” means to fully allow dissent and dissenters of whatever we feel we have the right to believe as having the same rights to do so. Muslims and Islam has NEVER been supportive of anything but Islam and Muslims.

    “Not in my name?”

    A thousand plus years says otherwise.

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  • Sulayman F

    Actually ALL the time. Perhaps you need to go educate yourself. What about the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust? The Muslims who died fighting to protect Americans? The Muslims who helped Ireland during their famine? That’s just a few off the top of my head. Break out of the stereotypes and learn some history.

  • Staphen Kent Gray

    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Main_Page

    There are so many disproof and counter examples, but I will limit myself to a few.

    Grand Muftil of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini

    His opposition to the British peaked during the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine. In 1937, evading an arrest warrant, he fled Palestine and took refuge in, successively, the French Mandate of Lebanon and the Kingdom of Iraq, until he established himself in Italy and Germany. During World War II he collaborated with both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy by making propagandistic radio broadcasts and by helping Germans recruit Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen-SS. On meeting Adolf Hitler he requested backing for Arab independence and support in opposing the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home. At war’s end, he came under French protection, and then sought refuge in Cairo to avoid prosecution.

    There were tons of other Muslims who were allies of the Axis Powers as well. Mein Kampf (in Arabic translation) can be found and bought easily in the Muslim world.

    Also, the vast majority of the Muslim world is anti American and would just love to kill Americans. Just recently in Turkey, some Muslims attacked Americans there.

  • Staphen Kent Gray

    Also, Muslims have been guilty of genocide before the Nazis. Google or Bing if you do like me terms like Greek Genocide, Armenians Genocide, Assyrian Genocide, and Yazidi/Kurdish Genocide.

  • DaveV

    Just point out a free and open “Islamic country” that supports others of different religions to promote and proselytize others and you get to stand on your high horse.

    Islam IS totalitarianism. That is an historic fact. From Mo to ISIS. Non stop consistency.

  • Fourth Valley

    And before those genocides, Christians engaged in genocides against Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and European Jews. Before that Jews launched genocides against Caananites. Hindus have attempted genocides against Muslims and Sikhs. Buddhists have even attempted genocides against Muslim immigrants. Even anti-religious, atheistic states have committed genocides. What is your point??

    In other places in History: Jews fleeing Christian persecution fled to Islamic Iberia, where the “Golden Age” of the Sephardim Jews was happening under the (not perfect by any means, but) religiously free Cordoba Caliphate, a Muslim government that even petitioned the Byzantine government to end their persecution of the Jews.

    The fun thing about history in regards to nationality, race, religion, and personal philosophy is that we can find numerous individuals in any group who are horrible people, and we can find numerous wonderful individuals in any group who advance the world positively.

    As a result both sides of an argument such as the one above can go back-and-forth forever citing examples of One Group being beacons of humanity and the other side citing examples of the same group of being horrible monsters. The key to ending these conversations is to realize that every single group has both great individuals and horrible ones. Not a single religion is devoid of terrifying extremists, and not a single one lacks great and noble individuals.

  • Stephen Kent Gray

    Any look at caliphate and sharia law will show that actually the vast majoirty of Islamic history is all horrible people.

    Also, those so called Golden Age religiously free places were examples of Dhimmitude rather than actual freedom or equality. Second, only Jews and Chrisitans with some instances for Zoroastrians and Mandaeans were given the better than nothing Dhimmitude while all other religions like Pagans for example had to convert or die even in those states.

    According to Islamic laws, non-Muslims in Islamic lands should be subdued and be treated as dhimmis (second class citizens). They should be coerced and intimidated to convert to Islam, through special humiliating taxes like Jizyah imposed on them. Following Prophet Muhammad’s example, this has been taking place throughout Islam’s history. While Muslims demand for concessions in non-Muslim countries, non-Muslims are systematically persecuted, terrorized and ethnically cleansed from Islamic lands.

    Islam is the only major world religion that does not allow its followers the freedom to change faith. According to Shari’ah laws (extracted from the Qur’an and Sunnah), apostates of Islam must be sentenced to death. This has led to former Muslims often being persecuted, abused and killed. This treatment of apostates is not simply down to the issue of state-enforced religion as some may suggest. As you will find out on this page, the violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives not from government authorities but from family members and individuals from the Islamic communities themselves, who operate very often with impunity from the government. This point is further emphasised by the persecution and murder of former Muslims which has now become evident in many non-Muslim societies across the globe.

    Homosexuality is considered to be one of the worst sins in Islam and one of the greatest crimes punishable under Islamic law. The Prophet Muhammad not only condemned homosexuality but even the “appearance” of homosexuality (effeminate men and masculine women). With the rise of the Islamic population amongst historically non-Muslim societies, also comes the rise in persecution. For example, while Muslims comprise just 2% of the total British population, they commit 25% of all anti-Homosexual crimes. However, this ongoing and increasing persecution of homosexuals by Muslims around the world, rarely makes the mainstream news. Thanks to the Internet, those of us who search can find many news items that would otherwise be lost.

  • Rashid.M

    >>”If Muslims want to be nice to non-Muslims, or Kafir as they call us . . . they should all go back and live in “Islamic” countries and let those of us the reject Islam and are insulted by Mohammad and his views and his god Allah (which is a crime in Islamic countries that can get you the death penalty), live out our lives in peace and safety from being attacked and killed by Muslims. ”

    If you want to practice religious discrimination, perhaps it is you that needs to seek out a country which caters for such sentiments, and leave alone those who want to live out their lives in peace and safety from your bigotry.

    >>”Islam and Muslims has/have a VERY CONSISTENT HISTORY of subjugating and slaughtering anyone that does not “submit” to Islamic totalitarianism.”

    There are over a billion Muslims in the world who stand in contradiction to your myopic, generalised slander. Your post is just a pathetic series of unsubstantiated slurs, which prove nothing more than your ignorance of Islam. It puts your understanding of what Muslims globally are, in roughly the same category as the likes of ISIL. And the comparisons don’t stop there, making you truly an enemy of any religiously pluralistic, tolerant society anywhere.

  • Fourth Valley

    Why yes.

    You are right.

    OBVIOUSLY the reason so many Jews fled Christian states to immigrate to Cordoba was because Cordoba was oppressive against them.

    You know the “special taxes” only existed because non-Muslims were exempt from regular Muslim taxes correct??

    Islam is the only religion that forbids apostasy you say?? No. Take it from a religion nerd: it really, really isn’t. First example that comes to mind: tell the people of ancient Athens that you no longer believe in the gods, and watch them democratically vote for your execution.

    If you look at the “vast majority” of historical Christianity, say from 325 when they started persecuting non-Trinitarian Christians, to about the 1900’s, you won’t like what you see. Forced conversions, crusades, executions of non-believers, inquisitions, declarations of Native American Indian persons as non-human to justify slaughter and land-theft, curse of Ham slavery-justification nonsense, violent persecution of other Christian groups with slightly different ideas. The time between 325 and 1900, which is the /majority/ of Christian existence, was a time of horrible atrocities at the hands of Christiandom. The reason for this is that: People in the past were generally [expletive deleted]. Mass genocide, slaughter, slavery, and death were rather commonplace for a shameful amount of human history. No one group is immune to the fact that the past was full of [expletive deleted] who thought violently exterminating a whole people was justified. Only recently (“recent” relative to the whole of human history) have we begun to see these things as the horrible things they truly are.

    But again, history is rife with examples of both awesome Muslims and terrible Muslims. As it is rife with awesome Christians and terrible Christians, awesome Taoists and terrible Taoists, awesome Baha’is and terrible Baha’is. Citing a few examples where people are [expletive deleted] means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

  • Fourth Valley

    Turkey. What do I win??

    Bonus Points: Albania.

  • rob

    Many SUSPECT the ones doing all the murdering rapping and other evil stuff are really Atheists
    just claiming to be Muslim OR Christian or Jews .. THIS HAS NEVER BEEN DISPROVED..

  • Sootys mum

    Really? I suppose that you have allowed the Indian call centre access to your computer to fix it.

  • Rebecca

    To Cathy Grossman – should not Muslims take some responsibility. Any ex-Muslim will tell you that there are issues with the Islamic message – and these attacks on non-Muslims across the world – and attempts to bring western laws under the sharia – are very much a part of the Islamic message. And that Islam and Christianity are so different – it is simply easier to believe – that it can’t be. Such that Christianity would seem radical.

    And that the message and the people are separate – where you argue that they are the same – it could also be used to argue that one doesn’t have the right to leave their religion – of Islam.

    Under Islamic law Muslims would enjoy more rights than non-Muslims – that today this is the first time since Islam’s inception – that its authority has been challenged verbally – as Muslims have been conditioned to understand that the penalty for such criticism is death.

    And given these facts should we not be more responsible in how we go about protecting such issues – and separate criticism of the Muslim – the individual – who is no different from anyone else – and criticism of the religious teaching of Islam.

    We must stand up for freedoms and not Saudi type sharia. Because we can look at the Islamic world and see how this turns out.

    Islam teaches that all non-Muslims are ‘ignorant’ – [which they have the right to believe] but we must take care not to adopt this same supremacist approach and demean others in our criticisms – of those who would challenge the imposition of Islam – the religious ideology.

    We should remember freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and most importantly here – the freedom not to believe.

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  • Jay

    Taqiyya, my friend, plain and simple… Most Muslims will deny this principle exists, but this principle allows & even dictates deception of infidels to further the spread of Islam. Did you all catch that word? DECEPTION. Not in my name? You are being deceived! Watch this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ib9rofXQl6w