Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Islamophobia on Social Media: A Qualitative Analysis of the Facebook's Walls of Hate

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Islamophobia on Social Media: A Qualitative Analysis of the Facebook's Walls of Hate

Article excerpt


The growth and expansion of the Internet has created many positive opportunities for people to communicate and engage in a manner. However, it has also acted as a double-edged sword (Back et al., 2010) by creating an online vacuum and platform for people using hate as a means to appeal to a wider audience often under the cloak of anonymity that allows them to supersede and bypass editorial control and regulation (Bargh & McKenna, 2004; Blair, 2003; Citron, 2014; Hodges & Perry, 1999). The Internet therefore provides new opportunities for cyber-bullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008; Kowalski, et al., 2012) and cyber hate (Jaishankar, 2008).

Online hate speech, bullying, incitement and threats of violence have in recent times become a key issue for social media networks, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and policy-makers. In England and Wales, it is an offence to stir up and incite hatred through illegal hate content on the grounds of: race, religion and sexual orientation. There are also other offences such as using the content of a website which can also be illegal when it threatens or harasses a person or a group of people. If such material is posted because of hostility based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender then it can be viewed as a hate crime. This material can also be disseminated in either words, pictures, video, music and could include; messages calling for racial or religious violence, direct webpages with pictures, videos or descriptions that glorify violence against anyone due to their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or because they are transgender and chat forums, where people ask other people to commit hate crimes.

Messages can be spread at great speed, people can remain anonymous and the nature of cyber space remains unregulated. In particular for hate groups, wanting to recruit people for their cause and also be given a platform to spread unsolicited material which can often go unnoticed (Hewson et al., 2003). This allows them to capture audiences and use the Internet as a propaganda tool for those purposes. Indeed, these communicative messages can also cause a lot of discontent and impact upon measures of community cohesion (McNamee et al., 2010).

Hate speech in this context is any form of language used to depict someone in a negative fashion in regards to their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical and mental disability with promotes hate and incites violence (Yar, 2013; Feldman et al., 2013). This also links into the convergence of emotional distress caused by hate online, the nature of intimidation and harassment online, and the prejudice that seeks to defame groups through speech intending to injure and intimidate.

Hate on the Internet can have direct and indirect experiences for victims and communities being targeted (Awan & Zempi, 2015a; Awan, 2016; Chakraborti & Garland, 2009). In one sense, it can be used to harass and intimidate victims and on the other hand, it can also be used for opportunistic crimes (Christopherson, 2007). The Internet, therefore is a powerful tool by which people can be influenced to act in a certain way and manner. What also is left in terms of direct impact is important, because it impacts upon local communities and the understanding of how this could constitute acts of violence offline (Douglas et al., 2005). Awan and Zempi (2015) found that online and offline anti-Muslim hate crime can impact upon people's lives to the extent that they feel a sense of anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation. This is particularly strong when considering hate speech online that aims to threaten and incite violence.

As noted above, a lot of the material online can also cause a lot of fear and it is imperative that the police and other agencies within the security sector work together to tackle hate crime on the Internet (Awan & Zempi, 2015b). …

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