Can you counter extremism through hashtags?
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya/December 16/15
Can a hashtag on Twitter contain the repercussions of negative acts such as a brutal stabbing attack? It seems that the answer is yes. It seemed exceptional how the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv trended on Twitter allowing to contain tensions among Muslim Brits and other citizens following the stabbing incident in London’s underground station last week. Videos of the incident showed police officers calm the suspect who reportedly said, “This is for Syria,” when a bystander can be heard yelling “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv” at the arrested man. The video seemed very symbolic, and effective as seen in the widespread tweets using that hashtag and interacting with it. This happened amid growing demands to adopt policies which deter the spread of extremists’ ideas particularly via Twitter. Days before the incident in London, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered a speech in Washington and spoke out against the role which Twitter plays in spreading extremist ideologies in Muslim societies and warned against it.
Of course Blair did not reveal anything new to us as we, in the Arab world, are well-acquainted with these extremists’ worlds and with their supporters who operate via spreading violent ideas and brutal propaganda. Terrorism is currently obsessed with modern technologies as a means to spread its ideology and gain new recruits Surfing social media pages of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters or taking a look at hashtags which sympathize with the militants shows how much these people seek to create a cinematic world. They portray themselves with bleak images where bearded men dressed in clothing from past eras document scenes of murder. These people need nothing more than a circulating image in order for murder to aggravate in the worst forms. Therefore, #YouAintNoMuslimBruv came as a counterweight to what social media sites like Twitter can provide. ISIS and those who desire a more violent and extremist world are also fond of Twitter. Therefore, the activity of Twitter users denouncing ISIS is vital. All studies and warnings suggest that Twitter is the preferred platform for ISIS and its sympathizers as this site acts like a loudspeaker to extremists and forms an arena for the latter to come together from across the world.
However, Twitter is also an important platform for ordinary people who voice their condemnation of those who murder in the name of Islam. This is what happened with #YouAintNoMuslimBruv, which carried human values that completely contradict the ideas that violent attacks aim to propagate.
The hashtag also deterred those who would have desired to generalize the idea that all Muslims sympathize with ISIS. It’s true that this is not the first time that many people show their rejection of extremism and violence committed in their name; however, the success of this condemnation in particular enhances hopes that we have the ability to overcome hate campaigns which similar attacks may produce. It’s an electronic society seeking a different means to develop itself and to confront mechanisms of untraditional violence. Terrorism is currently obsessed with modern technologies as a means to spread its ideology and gain recruits. Indeed, modern fundamentalism has gained ground thanks to how much it depends on IT. Yes, there’s perhaps a virtual society that is viewing terrorism and sympathizing with it, but there are also many people who are confronting this extremism in the most peaceful and modern of ways. Campaigns rejecting the statements of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump provides us with even more proof that hate speech can be confronted effectively online.