By Imran Awan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology 

Last year, I made the decision of joining a social media platform, namely Twitter.  As an academic, I don’t believe social media comes as naturally as lecturing to a crowd of 200 or more students.  Clearly, my research around Muslim communities, Islamophobia and counter-terrorism is sensitive and therefore I did receive quite a lot of abuse online from people who saw my research as negative. Following this, I embarked upon my latest study which was to examine how Islamophobia had permeated through the online space.

This study involved analysing tweets between January 2013 and April 2014, and which are available and accessible in the open public domain. The overwhelming number of tweets were written and posted by people who were living in the United Kingdom. From the data collected, the majority of tweets (72 per cent) were posted by males. Three hashtags (#Woolwich, #Muslim, and #Islam) were used to examine patterns emerging regarding online Islamophobia on Twitter, having appeared on the Twitter search engine as words that had recently “trended” in the United Kingdom.

I found that some of the most common reappearing words used to describe Muslims in a derogatory manner included the words ‘Muslim pigs’ (9 per cent), ‘Muzrats’ (14 per cent), ‘Muslim Paedos’ (30 per cent), ‘Muslim terrorists’ (22 per cent), ‘Muslim scum’ (15 per cent), and ‘Pisslam’ (10 per cent).

Over 75 per cent of the tweets examined showed a strong Islamophobic feeling, used to stereotype and blame all Muslims on a particular issue, and to justify the abuse. For example, some accounts were open about their anger and hatred for Muslims as a result of recent cases surrounding Asian men convicted of grooming underage girls. Moreover, a number of accounts also used and disseminated anti-Muslim images and literature as a means to defame and caricature Muslims as dangerous paedophiles. Indeed, the word ‘Muslim Paedos’ was used up to 30 per cent of times, reflecting and coinciding with recent cases of Muslim men convicted of grooming offences.

However, in some cases people simply used Twitter as a means to antagonise and create hostility; with some accounts using derogatory terminology by referring to Muslims as ‘Muzrats’ (a demeaning word to describe Muslims as vermin or comparing them to a disease). Some tweets used a number of hostile hashtags to note how #Islamkills and whites would become a minority unless the ‘Muzrats’ are stopped. Interestingly, the word #Muslimterrorists also appeared high on the list of frequent words used, accounting for 22 per cent. In particular, it became part of the September 11 trending words across Twitter where Muslims were being depicted through pictures and videos as extremists and terrorists. With this in mind, I created a typology of 8 characteristics of offenders that made up my ‘Eight Faces of Hate’ and can be found in my article.

The tweets examined in this article highlight the derogatory and systematic abuse that people are suffering as a result of online abuse. The typology created of online abusers shows that offenders presented some key characteristics and motivations behind their actions. We need to begin a process of evidence-based research to help create a safer online space for users; including innovative ways that policymakers, police forces, third sector organizations, and social networking sites (such as Twitter and Facebook) can best respond to online anti-Muslim hate crime.

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