The government and the police have been urged to tackle the swathe of harassment suffered by Muslims on social media.
Publishing a report into ‘Online Hate against Muslims on Social Media’, Imran Awan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham University 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 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).
Mr Awan 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.”
Categorising the cyber trolls: ‘Eight Faces of Hate’
• The Trawler: Someone who has gone through other people’s twitter accounts to specifically target people with a Muslim connection.
• The Apprentice: A person who is fairly new to Twitter but nonetheless has begun to target people with the help of more experienced online abusers.
• The Disseminator: Someone who has tweeted about and retweeted messages, pictures, and documents of online hate that are specifically targeting Muslims.
• The Impersonator: A person who is using a fake profile, account, and images to target individuals.
• The Accessory: A person who is joining in with other peoples conversations via Twitter to target vulnerable people.
• The Reactive: A person who following a major incident, such as Woolwich, or issues on immigration, will begin an online campaign targeting that specific group and individual.
• The Mover: Someone who regularly changes their Twitter account in order to continue targeting someone from a different profile.
• The Professional: A person who has a huge following on Twitter and regardless of consequences has and will launch a major campaign of hate against an individual or group of people because they are Muslim. This person will also have multiple Twitter accounts all aimed at targeting Muslim communities
Published in the peer-reviewed journal, Policy & Internet, the study, ‘Islamophobia and Twitter: A Typology of Online Hate against Muslims on Social Media’, examines a random sample of 500 tweets from 100 different UK Twitter users, which were posted between January 2013 and April 2014.
See also Imran Awan, “The eight faces of online hate: Islamophobia on social media”, Birmingham City University blog, 4 June 2014
And Jessica Elgot, “Islamophobic trolling on Twitter is absolutely rampant in Britain”, Huffington Post, 4 June 2014