How Facebook contributes to Anti-Muslim sentiment

TAYLOR TOOVEY

Some would say anti-Muslim Facebook pages exists as a platform for self – expression regarding Islam and Muslims.

However, this self – expression that Australians have an implied constitutional right to, is not necessarily without consequences when it uses anti-Muslim rhetoric and spreads false messages about Islam.

After comparing a number of Facebook pages including Islamic State Watch Australia, Australians against Radical Islam, Exposing Islam 2, ONE VOICE, Freedom of Speech Productions, Aussie Infidels and more, the pages discuss in varying degrees of accuracy and inaccuracy, Islam’s practices, images and memes about Islam, as well as current events involving Muslims and terrorism.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-9-22-27-am

The profile picture of an anti-Muslim Facebook page called, Exposing Islam 2. Source Facebook

Not all of the content shared on these pages is problematic or untrue. However, often the discussion on these pages reflects a strong dislike for Muslims and Islam based on misconceptions, half truths, and anti-Muslim propaganda.

According to a report by the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), online hate against Muslims generally occurs through labelling all Muslims as terrorists, inciting violence and threatening Muslims, dehumanising and demonising Muslims, portraying Muslims as dishonest, manipulative and a “threat to our way of life,” xenophobia, attempts to socially isolate the Muslim community and exclude them from society through protesting the construction of new Mosques and Halal certification in Australia.

Even the Facebook pages that have names suggesting they are rational and open to an impartial discussion about Islam like, Australians against radical Islam, are not a realistic place for an impartial discussion to occur.

On October 11, Australians against Radical Islam, shared the flyer for the National Mosque Open Day on their page. Numerous comments were made opposing the open day, including:

“I’ll strap pigs blood to my leg in a bag. Then pierce it in the way in and walk around with it dribbling out. Hey let’s all do this.”

“National mosque day Rag heads this is Australia not stinking Syria and the rest of them Boy this country going hell in a basket.”

On the other hand, there are Facebook pages that demonstrate simply by their name, what the content of their page will be about.

An example of this includes the page, ‘I f*cking hate Islam.’

Doctor Halim Rane, Associate Professor of Islam-West Relations at Griffith University said that these Facebook pages “promote hate based on ideas that are either half truths or not at all based on fact for the purpose of advancing a racist agenda.”

Doctor Winnifred Louis from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland explains that this is problematic as anti – Muslim online hate can have a variety of mental and physical health impacts on the Muslim community.

These can include depression, anxiety, anger, fear, distress, self – esteem issues, a poor sense of belonging, stress, heart disease and more.

Additionally, Doctor Louis states that anti-Muslim hate can fuel Muslim extremism.

“Just as anti-Western speech can inflame racism here and militarism, anti-Muslim speeches promote a sense of grievance which is fuel that extremists can exploit, and they can be catalysts for radicalisation,”she said.

However, Doctor Louis raises the important point that despite the prevalence of anti-Muslim hate across social media, comparatively, terrorism is rare so it is not a usual reaction.

Despite the various social, psychological and physical impacts of online hate against Muslims, the OHPI states that “Criticism and even attacks on ideas, including religion, do not violate human rights, and are therefore not a form of hate speech.”

Facebook brings people together for a discussion as well as creates social divides.

Doctor Rane believes that “discussion about Islam, Muslims and any other religion, ideology and social group should be informed and free of any threats of violence for the purpose of promoting mutual understanding and well-being.”

Lujayn Hawari, a freelance journalist and member of the Muslim community in Australia, has observed the gradual eruption of anti-Muslim hate speech over social media in recent years.

“Seeing such ignorance spread over social media to the entire world builds a fire in your chest because it is your identity, your belief, and your faith that is being criticized and made fun off,” Ms Hawari said.

“I always try to remind myself that if those people believed themselves to be right, then they would want to prove themselves (right) and face a Muslim,” she said.

According to the OHPI, anti-Muslim online abuse has increased significantly over recent years and most of the hate they have received reports about has come from Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook has made known his commitment to removing anti-Muslim hate from Facebook in order to make Muslims feel safe and welcome on the social network.

However, the OHPI state that the vast majority of anti-Muslim hate on Facebook that has been reported to them has not yet been removed .

A number of the anti-Muslim pages mentioned in this article were contacted for comment but none chose to reply.

If you need someone to talk to, please call:

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Headspace: 1800 650 890

SANE Australia for advice and referrals: 1800 18 SANE (7263)

 

 

 

 

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