Does Facebook usage influence the stereotyping of Muslims or the Islamic faith?

Research into Islamophobia and social media

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2018

49 Pages, Grade: 72





Literature review


Social Media

Conclusion of literature review








Test One
Test Two
Test Three
Test Four




Throughout this degree I have relied on my close family, for guidance, support and primarily tolerance, so for that I owe them more that thanks.

Also, to my tutors Anna, Darren and Lewis, thank you

I feel more than privileged to have been taught by such a great team. I thank you all for teaching me different aspects of life, I have learnt much more than Criminology and Sociology from yourselves. You have inspired me to have students of my own and I hope that I can guide them in the same way that you have me.


This dissertation is a primary quantitative study, collecting data in the form of a Likert questionnaire, using university students. It will aim to evaluate whether there is a link between the stereotyping of Muslims and the use of Facebook, to evaluate the role of Facebook within Islamophobia. The literature review analyses studies and previous knowledge around Islamophobia and Social Media, which suggested that there is a link between the two. Four tests will be conducted comparing different statements to provide results on trust of Arab males, belief in Facebook information, how Facebook effects emotions and beliefs and the belief in the oppression of Muslim females. This dissertation will discuss the findings within the discussion and results section, also, design and sample flaws will be discussed. Finally, this dissertation will identify gaps within the study and will suggest further research.


Over the centuries many ethnic or religious groups have become subject to hatred and violence and vilification. At various times groups such as Germans, Roman Catholics, Jews and Western Indians have all fallen under this category (Githens-Mazer and Lambert, 2010). This category being, those who in some way, threaten the British identity. Today, this outcast role is occupied by British Muslims (Githens-Mazer and Lambert, 2010). The term Islamophobia has come under increasing scrutiny after the rise of Islamophobic hate crimes post 9/11, and the Paris attacks of 2015.With the increase of many terrorist attacks across the globe, targeting the western world, adding to the growing fear of Muslims (Zempi and Awan, 2016). Islamophobia has become an important emerging concept which relates to wider issues around not only radicalisation of other Muslims but also the ‘othering’ of Muslim communities (Zempi and Awan, 2016). There is no universally agreed definition or interpretation of the term Islamophobia, however due to the dramatic rise in Anti-Muslim hate crime reported in England and Wales, it has become a topic for concern. Online hate speech and negativity towards Muslims has become an area of concern for the Police, The Crown Prosecution Service, Social Media providers and policy makers. This research aims to investigate social media’s role, if any, in this sharp increase of reported hate crime against Muslims. It has been suggested that the main cause of social discrimination against Muslims in the UK today is a consequence of Governmental policy often resulting from institutional Islamophobia (Ameli et al., 2004). Mazer and Lambert (2010), suggest that the constant assault on Muslims from certain politicians and global media, including social media, will only end with one result, violence. Media can be used for publicity, either positively or negatively, it can influence and intimidate public opinion, undermine the public’s confidence in the government and has an unlimited audience (Jackson, 2016). Messages, pictures, opinions or beliefs can be shared at a rapid pace and the nature of cyberspace remains unregulated. Around 800 million people use Facebook, and in 2016, 400 million users logged on every day with over two billion posts liked, this number continues to grow every day (Farris et al., 2014). Whilst Facebook and the online space it provides has created many positive opportunities, it has also created an online vacuum and platform for people or groups to use the space negatively (Awan, 2016). It has allowed the means for people to appeal to a wider audience often under the cloak of anonymity that bypasses editorial control and regulation. This is an area for concern when this space is being used to share and create a violent, racist and Islamophobic narrative which attempts to create a hostile virtual environment (Awan, 2016). The perils of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime threaten to undermine basic human rights and fundamental aspects of citizenship and co existing partnerships for Muslims in contemporary Europe (Githens-Mazer and Lambert, 2010). This research has the aim to evaluate how Facebook users are being influenced, if influenced at all regarding the stereotyping of Muslims and the Islamic faith. Due to the popularity of Facebook, it has become an important place to study interaction and stereotyping. 74% of Anti-Muslim hate speech occurs online using social media, and this research will hope to identify a link between Facebook usage and stereotyping (Feldman et al., 2013). It is important to evaluate whether those that do use Facebook to promote Anti- Muslim hate speech are impacting on the unlimited audience Facebook can provide. This research will begin with a literature review of studies around Islamophobia and studies around social media. Within the literature review, methodologies of previous studies will be critically analysed, focusing on the positives and negatives of the studies to improve, and, to identify the need for this research. The purpose of the literature review will be to identify any gaps in previous academic knowledge regarding hate speech or the influences Facebook can have on its audience. Although this study does not begin with a hypothesis, it becomes evident that the literature review suggests that there is a link between social media and the stereotyping of Muslims. Therefore, the testing methods will aim to reject the null hypothesis that there is not a link between the two. Within the methodology chapter, it will be discussed why this research takes an objectivist ontological philosophy. This is a quantitative primary study, using a Likert scale questionnaire to collect data from 55 participants. The data will be analysed using SPSS. The significance of the correlation is then tested using Chi squares, to identify the P value. The Cramer’s V value is used to measure the association between two ordinal variables. Several different variables will be tested to provide a range of results relevant to the proposed research question. These will be discussed in the results section providing bar charts, Chi square results and Cramer’s V results tables. The design section will evaluate why a pilot study was not completed and will critically analyse the difficulties in the design of the questionnaire when attempting to measure stereotype around a sensitive topic. The impact and limitations of the chosen sample will be discussed alongside the ethical considerations needed to perform this research. The results chapter reveal whether the different correlation tests have rejected the null hypothesis or have not rejected it. The discussion chapter will follow containing a critical analysis of the findings with further recommendations for future study. This research will end with a full conclusion of the findings.

Literature review

To evaluate whether there is a link between the stereotyping of Islam and the usage of social media, this literature review will evaluate studies around Islamophobia and the negative representation of Muslims. This literature review will firstly examine what Islamophobia is defined as and whether the Medias misrepresentation of Muslims effects the Muslim population. This will be evaluated using studies around the public perception of Muslims post 9/11, and studies evaluating the stereotyping of Muslims by the public. This research does not argue that this stigmatization and stereotyping did not exist before the attack of 9/11. However, it is argued that the initiation of the ‘Global War on Terror’, has played a significant part in increasing negative public perception (Githens-Mazer and Lambert, 2010). This literature review will evaluate studies around Facebook and further studies around Islamophobia within the media. This review will examine if Facebook can affect a person’s concepts, beliefs and opinions using current experiments by scientists employed by Facebook and, evaluating a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) study by Tornberg (2016). This literature will critically analyse the results of these studies and will lead to further recommendations as to why it is important to evaluate whether there is a link between Facebook usage and negative views of Islam. The study by Facebook itself reveals that people are influenced emotionally by what they read on Facebook, the study by Tornberg (2016), evaluates on obvious themes regarding Facebook posts around Islam. This literature review will combine the results of the studies used to evaluate the impact and to suggest further study. To emphasise the findings from the studies, a study of the UK population’s perceptions around Islam and Muslims will be evaluated to suggest further research. This review will identify gaps in literature around Facebook usage and the impact it can have on its users by identifying not only the negative findings but will also examine positive solutions. This review will cover two themes, Islamophobia and Social media.


Islamophobia was first defined by the Runnymede trust (1997) as a way of describing anti-Muslim prejudice, or ‘unfounded hostility towards Muslims’, however, the definition of Islamophobia has not been entirely agreed upon by scholars (Estes and Tiliouine, 2016). There is an international cluster of phrases and terms referring to the negative feelings and attitudes towards Muslims and Islam (Richardson, 2009). These terms differ according to country, culture or international organisation. These can include; Anti-Muslim racism, intolerance against Muslims, Anti-Muslim prejudice, Anti-Muslim bigotry, hatred of Muslims and demonization of Islam or Muslims (Richardson, 2009). Someone who is believed to be Islamophobic is presumed to believe these common assumptions; Islam is ‘other’ or separate, Islam is violent, barbaric, primitive, and sexist, Islam is aggressive, preaches hatred and is in support of terrorism (Estes and Tiliouine, 2016). This view or opinion allows the idea that hostility towards Muslims is natural or normal. However, Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon, with evidence that it goes back to early Muslim migration to Europe, it has become much more visible since the terrorist attack of 9/11 in America (Farrar, 2011). A poll conducted in America before the 9/11 attacks revealed that most participants, when asked what a terrorist was, replied that they are all male and are always Muslims of Middle Eastern origin (Rinehart, 2016). The Medias headlines seem unanimous of the picture they paint of Muslims, as unenlightened outsiders who have different values and distorted abstractions (Morey and Yagin, 2011).

Within a week of the 7/7 bombings, 300 religious hate crimes were recorded in England and Wales, with the Metropolitan police recording a 600% rise in the month following the London bombings (Owen and Powell, 2007). Over a three-week period following the 7/7 bombing attack, over 1200 Islamophobic incidents were recorded throughout the UK and as of 2012, police figures indicate that anti- Muslim hate crime is at a record high level (Chakrabarti and Garland, 2009). The measuring Anti-Muslim attacks group (Tell MAMA), an organisation that will report Islamophobic crimes on behalf of frightened victims, reported that, following the killing of British Aid worker Davin Haines, 39 hate incidents were recorded over three days in the UK (Pargeter, 2015). A similar pattern was recorded in France, there was a 23.5% in Islamophobic attacks immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attack (Pargeter, 2015). Muslims have been portrayed in the media as modern day folk devils, creating fear and suspicion, it is argued that moral panic arises when distorted mass media campaigns are used to create fear and to reinforce stereotypes (Morgan, 2016). Moral panics are created by focussed attention by the media on certain behaviour, whether real or imagined, they are then transformed into folk devils by the mass media and are stripped of all favourable characteristics, portrayed as ‘negative ones’ (Morgan, 2016). This is followed by a fluctuation of public concern and most importantly, a rise in public hysteria which results in the passing of legislation which is highly punitive and unnecessary, such as, Donald Trump’s travel ban for Muslims or the French Burqa ban (Morgan, 2016).

Polls conducted shortly after 9/11 indicate that the local and global public, harbour negative feelings towards Muslims, with 45% of participants view Muslims unfavourably and a further 20% of the American population have Anti-Muslim views (Estes and Tiliouine, 2016). A UK media content analysis by Allen (2012), revealed that 74% of the British public claim that they know little to nothing about Islam, and that previous research around Muslims in media headlines within the UK had risen by 270%, however, 91% of this was negative. A study conducted by Wilamowitz- Moellendorff (2003), suggested that stereotyping and othering is more common among persons with lower education levels, unemployed and people over 60 years old. Therefore, indicating that for most people, the media is their main source of information which is portraying Muslims in a negative light, 91% of the time. The studies also reveal that participants who are white, male and of an older generation are more prone to stereotyping. These public perceptions are held throughout the western world and are fuelled by many things, such as, the opinion that terrorism is a crime only committed by Muslims, the introduction of public policies that target Muslim and the stereotyping of Muslims within the mass media (Estes and Tiliouine, 2016). Indicating and reinforcing that Muslim stereotyping begins much higher up than the public, in a top down manor. Which can create emotional reactions amongst the public such as, fear and individual anxiety (Rinehart, 2016). King and Sutton (2013) conducted a study in Germany focussed on hate speech and cyber hate referring to Muslims and what events can trigger this hatred, their results pointed out that the dynamics of cyber hate was related to recent events. Their studies further suggested that cyber hate is often the result of events which incite retribution from one group to another, therefore there is evidence that online communities can help with the stereotyping of another group.

There is increasing evidence that Muslims suffer discrimination on the grounds of their association with Islam, and prejudice against Muslims has become a feature of life post 9/11 (Farrar, 2011). A study conducted by the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC), revealed that Muslims in the UK, feel themselves to be the victims of prevailing stereotypes (Ameli et al., 2004). The studied revealed that they feel that they are accused of being anti-modern, fanatical and are viewed with suspicion and derision. Furthermore, when asked their opinion on how this situation would ever change, the participants responded, “This situation will not change unless the issue is tackled from the top” (Ameli et al., 2004). There have been many terrorist attacks on western culture which have been over sensationalised by the media and understandably these events have caused major public concern and have encouraged ideas that all Muslims are terrorists. Discriminative policies and legislation from the US and UK government could demonstrate that the stereotyping of Muslims begins much higher than the public. These events have undoubtedly reinforced hostile perceptions and attitudes towards ‘other’ cultures (Shaw, 2012). Muslims have been perpetuated by negative stereotypes within the media, leading to feelings of bias, marginalisation and discrimination and exclusion (Farrar, 2011). These feelings of marginalisation and isolation could encourage Muslim communities to further retreat and isolate themselves, leaving them to possibly harbour and believe extremist views (Farrar, 2011). Hate crimes towards Muslims have shown a rise directly after a media sensationalised event, reflected in crime statistics, as most participants in the studies examined claim they have little or no knowledge of Islam, it has become important to evaluate what could cause these negative feelings.

Social Media

The media play a fundamental role in the construction of knowledge around Islam, with the events on 9/11 and 7/7, together with the more recent attacks on Paris, London, Belgium and Barcelona which have been used to bring Islam and Muslim identity to the forefront of global news, including social media (Chakrabarty et al., 2014). However, social media differs from traditional and conventional media in many aspects, such as, interactivity, reach, frequency, immediacy and permanence (Weimann, 2015). Social media has provided a space for the creation of collective identity, to share similar opinions and show mutual solidarity for a certain view of the world (Hanzelka and Mares, 2015). Social media also has the ability for information to ‘go viral’, thus intensifying the coverage and offers radical thinking members of society an opportunity to find like-minded individuals (Tornberg, 2016). Traditional media is a small cohort of established institutions that can disseminate information to an effectively limitless audience, however, social media enables anyone to publish or access information. Facebook was created in 2004, and at present, 2018, has 2.3 Billion active users, 50% of these users log on every day, and, over two billion posts are liked and commented on each day (Facebook, 2018). The age group 25-34, accounts for 29.7% of its users, Facebook most common age demographic (Facebook, 2018). Furthermore, recent studies revealed that 76% of the users are female, and 50% of all Facebook users aged 18-24 will visit Facebook as soon as they wake up (Facebook, 2018). Although studies around the misrepresentation of Muslims has been well studied, there are significantly less studies on the impact social media can have on perceptions and negative stereotypes of Muslims. This is more than likely due to the methodological difficulties in analysing the large amounts of unstructured data (Tornberg, 2016). However, Facebook ban hate speech within their terms and conditions of service and are constantly attempting to take down pages designed to support anti-Muslim ideology (Sidlow, 2013). Despite these efforts, hate speech on Facebook is still widely used and is available to an unlimited audience (Sidlow, 2013). A study conducted by Hanzelka and Mares (2015) in Germany suggested that the refugee crisis and recent attacks in Europe relate to the rise of Anti- Muslim movements around Europe. They stated that in Germany, online hate manifestations are becoming more frequent, they used actual posts from Facebook users to reach this conclusion, however, and their study was limited to discussions around hateful comments. As a basis for their study, a theory called intergroup contact theory was used, this was used to create positive solutions to their findings. Allport (1954), identified four conditions needed to reduce prejudice comments; equal group status in a situation, common goals, intergroup cooperation and equal support of authorities, laws or customs. Another study conducted by Pettigrew (2006) also sought a positive solution to the negative findings, using 500 previous studies on hate speech, he suggested within his study that contact between groups helped to reduce the hate speech posted on social media. However, despite their being positive solutions found, this is still an important area to study as social media can act as an ‘online amplifier’ that reflects and reinforces existing negative stereotypes, and previous studies have discovered that people are susceptible to what they read on Facebook. Social media, when used incorrectly also can cause fear, anger, shock and anxiety, this can have a detrimental impact on the victims and their families, and therefore more UK based research is needed to confront these pressing issues (Allen et al., 2013).


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Does Facebook usage influence the stereotyping of Muslims or the Islamic faith?
Research into Islamophobia and social media
University of Hull
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does, facebook, muslims, islamic, research, islamophobia
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BA Hons Criminological studies with social sciences Susan Bailey (Author), 2018, Does Facebook usage influence the stereotyping of Muslims or the Islamic faith?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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