Study unravels myths about political Islamophobia

ANI | Updated: Jan 28, 2020 15:47 IST

Pennsylvania [USA], Jan 28 (ANI): In a recent study, researchers have found that during the mid-term elections in the United States, Islamophobia was rampant on social media and the hatred seen online was different from what was witnessed during the referendum.
Researchers have revealed that most anti-Muslim tweets linked to the 2018 mid-term elections were sent either by a few leaders with large followings on social media or by bots. Additionally, Muslim candidates' face-to-face experiences with constituents were generally more positive than what they experienced on social media.
Shaheen Pasha, Penn State Assistant Professor, said that the results dissipate a misconception that most people in the United States are anti-Muslim.
"People retweet these messages of hate because they feel like they're jumping on a bandwagon where they think everyone feels that way. But in reality, it's just a handful of people and a lot of bots who are creating this content. These hateful messages are snowballing even though the majority of people may not agree or actually feel that way," Shaheen added.
According to researchers, Islamophobia ramped up on social media as Muslim candidates ran for seats in the US Senate and the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who campaigned during the election and ended up being the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, were two of the primary targets.
Pasha further said: "We're going to continue seeing these messages in the next election, especially with candidates who are more vocal or more visibly identifiable as Muslims. We wanted to put together a roadmap for future candidates that let them know what they can expect to see online, what to expect on the ground as they speak with the public, and what this means for them as they go out in the public eye."
Researchers surveyed forty Muslim Americans on their experiences during the 2018 election campaigns and collected data about the candidates' social media activity and tweets about the candidates between September 30 and November 4, 2018. Tweets were coded for hate speech and Islamophobic or xenophobic language.
According to the report, researchers found that while the Muslim candidates reported little Islamophobia while meeting with constituents face to face, there was a narrative surrounding the candidates on social media that were disproportionately Islamophobic, xenophobic, racist, and misogynistic.
For instance, 40 per cent of the 90,193 tweets referencing Omar within the study window contained Islamophobic or anti-immigrant language. Another 10 per cent contained Israel-related hate speech. Out of the 12,492 tweets tagging Tlaib, 28 per cent were Islamophobic or anti-immigrant and 22 per cent attacked her sympathy for Palestine.
In contrast, while one-third of survey respondents reported "high" or "very high" levels of Islamophobia during their campaigns, almost 40 pc said they experienced "little" or "no" Islamophobia. Additionally, 74 pc said they rarely or never encountered people who believe Islam is evil or religion of hate, and 67 pc said they rarely or never encountered people who think Islam supports terrorism.
Shaheen mentioned that there was some scepticism when the candidates met people, but they didn't come from a hateful and vitriol place, like what was seen online. And in-person participants still had questions, but they were more about the issues and about whether they were electable. It was less to do with their religion.
She further hoped that the research can help prepare and encourage other Muslim candidates to run for office.
"Omar and Tlaib have started a movement where we're seeing more Muslim representatives in elections, and I think we're going to see more of that moving forward. It's important for these candidates to know what to expect when they hit the campaign trail, and to know that the majority of people aren't spreading this hatred and vitriol, may help them believe they can do it," Pasha added. (ANI)