Muslim Representation on Social Media
By Hannah Karol Olsen
Muslims, specifically Muslim-Americans have faced discrimination and misrepresentation in the media for as long as it has been around, but especially since 9/11. The focus of this case study is on the ways of which Muslims are gaining momentum through the platform of social media to represent themselves in a way that is true to the core values of Islam and free of the negative stereotypes that it is frequently attached to western news and journalism.
It should be noted that one of the main reasons it is so difficult to correct the altered perspectives of Islam filtered through western media is because it manifests constantly even sometimes in progressive news sources. A strong example of this is when CNN came out with a news segment following the 2015 Paris attacks that received a great deal of backlash due to the way the Muslim community was indirectly held responsible for the event. In the video, news correspondent John Vause expressed his confusion as to why Muslims are not more openly “condemning” the actions of the terrorists, and why they were not informed enough to prevent the attack as if there are any ties between extremist terrorism and the Muslim community that would make this so. This is a case of Islamophobic media coverage which has always caused major issues for Muslim representation in western news and journalism (particularly in America).
The Missouri Groups’ News Reporting and Writing goes into detail on the standards of Journalism and what framework it needs to follow in order to be successful. One of the key pieces to this, is storytelling. In the process of reporting on any given event, journalists collect and present facts in a way that constructs a logical story to incorporate them into the whole picture. What happens in this situation (and what has continued to happen since 9/11) is that in the process of reporting on terrorist attacks, Islam becomes the front and center of the story of terrorism, and quickly gets attached to this term in an inaccurate, misrepresentative way for the majority of Muslims. Stuart Hall is another scholarly source from our class that belongs in this dialogue. Hall asserts that it is impossible for everyone to interpret the representation of an event the same way, because we all have different backgrounds that create different lenses. This being said, since there are so many strong stories being told in the media about Islam as a religion, it is difficult for people who have no pre-existing context for Islam to have a fully complete analysis of it, free of all the negative stereotypes. This further adds to the frustration of the Muslim community who DO have a complete understanding of Islam and are able to see the faults and inaccuracies in Islamophobic reporting.
While the influence of Islamophobia in the media is strong, there is now a social movement for Muslims to claim back their identity on many platforms, but especially social media. There are several Muslim individuals on all forms of social media, including youtube, twitter, tumblr, and Instagram. One example of this is an account called @themuslimvibe that has a steadily increasing fan base of just over 17,000 followers. The goal of this account, as written in the bio, is to promote “ethical, positive, engaging, relevant and thought-provoking Islamic content” in the form of digital images, artistic content, and inspirational text from the Qur’an. This page allows members of the Muslim community to share their inspiration and lived personal experience in short snippets, as well as clips of celebrities such as actor Riz Ahmed to encourage the inclusion of Muslim narratives in mainstream media.
The platform of social media is allowing the Muslim community to become normalized and acceptable in mainstream society, not just through accounts like this that focus mainly on religion itself, but through the individual accounts of Muslims involved in other activities as well. One example of this is many of the Muslim women in the fashion community on Instagram. By posting about their interests and skills in makeup, fashion, and beauty and gaining a significant amount of followers, they are empowered by being able to express themselves to a wide array of followers and present themselves free of stereotypes and false narratives. Social media is a growing medium that is specifically helpful to the Muslim community because it enables them to represent themselves and their true narratives, rather than being falsely labeled by other outside sources in the media.