#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? 

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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.