Politics

Conspiracy Theories and Islamophobia Are on the Rise Amid the Pandemic

Friday prayers, Rafah, Gaza Strip, 5/29/2020 © Abed Rahim Khatib / Shutterstock

For the previous decade, I’ve been researching the affect of Islamophobia on social media. After the outbreak of COVID-19, I used to be commissioned, alongside my colleague Roxana Khan Williams, by the chair and impartial members of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group to provide an evidenced-based analysis report that appears on the impacts of conspiracy theories perpetuated by the novel proper and the way these norms have impacted Muslims.

For me, it was very clear that COVID-19 might be appearing as a set off occasion that will impress hatred in opposition to Muslims, however I wanted to search out out whether or not this has already began amid the pandemic. After inspecting a spread of social media posts, we discovered that Islamophobic tropes pushed the narrative that Muslims have been solely accountable for spreading COVID-19. This narrative was perpetuated by, firstly, dehumanizing Muslims; secondly, by way of making a “them and us” narrative; and, lastly, by driving ahead the message that Muslims are to not be trusted.

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It was clear that a few of these narratives being pushed by the novel proper had created Islamophobic on-line cyber hubs that had linked Muslims to the unfold of COVID-19. This was being proven by way of the visible anti-Muslim memes and pretend information tales shared throughout social media.

We additionally discovered a shift in on-line traits that began by arguing that Muslims have been superspreaders of the virus after which shortly transferring on to the notion that they have been additionally in charge for the virus within the first place. For instance, in line with digital human rights group Equality Labs, the hashtag #CoronaJihad had appeared practically 300,000 instances in international conversations on mainstream social media websites (excluding Fb) in only one week between March 31 and April 6.

In Britain, one video, shared on the Tommy Robinson Information channel on the messaging app Telegram, alleges to indicate a bunch of Muslim males leaving a secret mosque in Birmingham to hope. Regardless of the very fact the video is pretend and West Midlands Police have confirmed the mosque is closed, it has been watched over 14,000 instances.

These points led to offline incidents as a result of folks have used pretend narratives on social media to painting all Muslims as being a part of the issue. For instance, in one other viral tweet posted on March 26, a person claimed to have spoken to his native mosque in Shrewsbury, UK, and was “horrified” to search out that this Mosque was nonetheless open. He added that the folks inside might be “tremendous spreaders” of the virus and urged the police to behave.

After a fact-finding train, it was shortly revealed by the police that there was no mosque in Shrewsbury. This instance, together with quite a few others, reveals how people can create pretend information tales which, if left unchecked, can unfold shortly on social media. We additionally discovered that on-line narratives have been rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry by way of the dehumanization of Muslims. These themes of dehumanization additionally hyperlink again to how Muslims are being described as “vermin” and “illness.”

We additionally discovered the depiction of British Muslims on social media turning into synonymous with them being a “dangerous and problem-group.” Various pretend information tales featured claims that Muslims are flouting social distancing measures to attend mosque. One image, for instance, taken outdoors a Leeds mosque, seems to indicate Muslims breaking the principles of lockdown regardless of this having been taken two weeks earlier than the official lockdown started.

General, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unity amongst teams and communities which have come collectively at this unprecedented second. Nevertheless, on the identical time, it has prompted wider divisions amongst smaller communities and teams, and has been used as a weapon by the novel proper in selling conspiracy theories, elevating questions on how our society can come collectively to deal with the ills of social media.

As lockdown measures ease, the fear is that we’ll begin to see an increase in offline incidents. Except we will familiarize yourself with folks’s attitudes on-line, we danger seeing extra issues emerge. Social media firms can do a lot better and begin the method of figuring out perpetrators and dealing with the police and different businesses to fight the rise of Islamophobia on-line.

*[Truthful Observer is a media accomplice of the Centre for Evaluation of the Radical Proper.]

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.

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