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Contesting #StopIslam: The Dynamics of a Counter-narrative Against Right-wing Populism

TitleContesting #StopIslam: The Dynamics of a Counter-narrative Against Right-wing Populism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPoole, E, Giraud, E, de Quincey, E
JournalOpen Library of Humanities

This paper sets out quantitative findings from a research project examining the dynamics of online counter-narratives against hate speech, focusing on #StopIslam, a hashtag that spread racialized hate speech and disinformation directed towards Islam and Muslims and which trended on Twitter after the March 2016 terror attacks in Brussels. We elucidate the dynamics of the counter-narrative through contrasting it with the affordances of the original anti-Islamic narrative it was trying to contest. We then explore the extent to which each narrative was taken up by the mainstream media. Our findings show that actors who disseminated the original hashtag with the most frequency were tightly-knit clusters of self-defined conservative actors based in the US. The hashtag was also routinely used in relation to other pro-Trump, anti-Clinton hashtags in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, forming part of a broader, racialized, anti-immigration narrative. In contrast, the most widely shared and disseminated messages were attempts to challenge the original narrative that were produced by a geographically dispersed network of self-identified Muslims and allies. The counter-narrative was significant in gaining purchase in the wider media ecology associated with this event, due to being reported by mainstream media outlets. We ultimately argue for the need for further research that combines ‘big data’ approaches with a conceptual focus on the broader media ecologies in which counter-narratives emerge and circulate, in order to better understand how opposition to hate speech can be sustained in the face of the tight-knit right-wing networks that often outlast dissenting voices.