#ContestingIslamophobia: Representation and Appropriation in Mediated Activism

This project examines the dynamics of anti- and pro-Muslim online activism. Using Twitter # campaigns as its starting point we focus on the appropriation of global ‘trigger’ events, such as terror attacks, by right wing US activists to create anti-Muslim narratives, and how these narratives are in turn opposed by anti-racist groups.

We are firstly examining the actors and interactions that enable particular narratives to gain dominance. We will then analyse mainstream media depictions of these narratives to assess the conditions under which certain stories gain wider publicity. Finally, we will situate these campaigns by analysing the websites of significant activists and interviewing key stakeholders such as journalists and opinion leaders circulating the discourse. By analysing the dynamics of these narratives we aim to develop a better understanding of how hate speech gains visibility and identify key difficulties and useful strategies for contesting hate speech.

The project aims to address the central question: 

What are the dynamics of online counter-narratives against Islamophobia and what political potentials and/or limitations do they offer

To answer this overarching question, we will address three sub-questions:

  1. Who are the key actors involved in the circulation of both the original Islamophobic narratives and counter-narratives and how do they relate online? What constraints and opportunities are offered by the entanglements between these narratives?
  2. What is the transnational dimension of counter-narrative formation, in terms of both the actors involved and the content they circulate? What part does the appropriation of global events by activists play in shaping the relationships between narratives and counter-narratives? 


What is the relationship between social media (counter-) narratives and other media platforms, e.g. through what processes do counter-narratives gain wider visibility in the mainstream media and what is the role of alternative media produced by actors involved in different narratives? What is the transnational dimension of these media ecologies?

poster ‌Using an innovative combination of qualitative research (including interviews, discourse analysis, and content analysis) and ‘big data’ methodologies (including computational analysis, network analysis and machine learning techniques), we aim to deepen understanding of the difficulties and opportunities for counter-narratives against hate in a context where these narratives are increasingly difficult to disentangle from the discourses they oppose. 

  1. To examine the construction and contestation of representations of Islam on Twitter, following three major political incidents (Britain’s exit from the EU 2019, the New Zealand right-wing terrorist attack, 2019, and the Coronavirus pandemic, 2020).
  2. To identify the actors operating in these discursive events and the interactions between them with particular attention to transnational dynamics and examples of appropriation.
  3. To analyse the symbiotic relationship between Twitter and the mainstream media.
  4. To interview significant actors in the debates (pro and anti-Islam activists, and journalists) and their strategies and role in disseminating related content.
  5. To develop a conceptual and methodological framework for assessing the political significance of tensions between counter-publics and digital technologies.
  6. To identify strategies for both analysing and combating online hate speech.

Elizabeth photo

Elizabeth Poole has written widely about the representation of religion and ethnicity in the news particularly focussing on Islam, including ‘Reporting Islam: Media Representations of British Muslims’  (2002), with John Richardson, ‘Muslims and the News Media’ (2006) and (with Kim Knott, and Teemu Taira) ‘Media Portrayals of Religion and the Secular Sacred’ (2013). She has also studied minority production and audiences, completing ‘Muslims in the European Mediascape’ with Siobhan Holohan 2011. More recently she has been working on projects that explore Islamophobic hate speech on social media (British Academy and AHRC) with Eva Giraud and Ed de Quincey at Keele.

John Richardson John E. Richardson was a Research Assistant on the research project #ContestingIslamophobia. Since working on the project, he has been employed by the University of Liverpool.
His research interests include critical discourse studies, British fascism, racism, rhetoric and argumentation, and commemorative discourse. His recent publications include: the books, the Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies (2018, co-edited with John Flowerdew), British Fascism: A Discourse-Historic Analysis (2017, Columbia University Press), Cultures of Post-War British Fascism (2015, co-edited with Nigel Copsey) and Analysing Fascist Discourse: European fascism in talk and text (2013, co-edited with Ruth Wodak); and academic articles on critical discourse studies, commemorative discourse, argumentation, political communications, multi-modality and the politics of music.

Ed de Quincey Ed de Quincey is a Professor of Computer Science at Keele University. He has researched and taught in the area of online human behaviour for 18 years, looking into the design, usability and impact of digital products as well as uses of the information that they collect. His research interests include human-centred design and human-computer interaction applied to areas such as health and education, and social media analytics focussed on user behaviour on twitter.

Ethical and legal considerations in sharing sensitive Twitter data 

Due to implicating individuals in the spread of Islamophobic hate speech on Twitter, the data we produced has both ethical and legal implications. This prompted us to ask questions about how we could share this data so it both complies legally with Twitter’s policies and adheres to best ethical practice, and how the data could be shared so it has a high degree of usefulness and therefore re-use for researchers.  

Aiming to define how open research affects social media research practices therefore, we developed a small project that involved an initial scoping study as well as interviews with researchers, archivists, and librarians working with large datasets of social media data – specifically Twitter data. The initial scoping review summarised contemporary open research practices – how datasets are shared and where – as well as the laws and policy surrounding and affecting how social media research is conducted and datasets shared. This scoping study indicated tensions between researchers and social media platforms over issues of copyright, consent, and the accessibility of data. Questions arising from these tensions were explored in more detail in interviews with researchers working with Twitter data, where we discussed the problems they faced in navigating legal and institutional codes of practice, social media platforms’ terms and conditions, and multidisciplinary ethical approaches; and the disparities experienced for those working across institutions, faculties and academic roles. The participants emphasised the need for open research data sharing practices due to a lack of benchmark social media data.

Hence, as a result of these interviews, we have drawn up some guidelines for best practice in sharing Twitter data (February 2023). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. These are not legal guidelines but highlight issues researchers may need to consider before sharing, in particular, sensitive data. We hope they will also be useful to those interested in debates around ethical data sharing and in the practicalities of sharing their findings in ethical ways.

Contesting Islamophobia project: preliminary findings

Keele University Conference 'Get the Trolls Out!' (MDI) | PDF

Arun Kundnani on Media, Islamophobia, and empire: a case study of Ilhan Omar

Callum Hood - Countering Hate Speech through Research and Campaigns

Joe Mulhall - Hope not Hate

Zahed Amanullah on Lessons from an anti-mosque case study

Final project report 2024

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