Muslims use hashtags to reclaim their voices online
#MuslimID, #SomethingGoingOnInTheMosque allow Twitter users to react to negative comments
The two weeks since the Paris attacks have seen a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians, pundits and people using social media.
One interesting trend arising from some of the media coverage of Muslims is the satirical hashtags emerging online after these stories spread.
When Donald Trump backed the idea of a special government database for American Muslims, a former marine tweeted a photo of his military ID card.
Hey <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump">@realDonaldTrump</a>, I'm an American Muslim and I already carry a special ID badge. Where's yours? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SemperFi?src=hash">#SemperFi</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USMC?src=hash">#USMC</a> <a href="https://t.co/QSf2O9PTi2">pic.twitter.com/QSf2O9PTi2</a>—@MuslimMarine
That was retweeted nearly 35,000 times and it prompted other Muslims to tweet their own badges using the hashtag #MuslimID.
When Trump backed government searches by telling CNN "something is going on in the mosques," that phrase became a hashtag, too.
Looks like they're teaching everyone how to 'duck & cover' *suspicious 😒* <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SomethingGoingOnInTheMosque?src=hash">#SomethingGoingOnInTheMosque</a> <a href="https://t.co/JQCcTWJVSr">pic.twitter.com/JQCcTWJVSr</a>—@rbp77
And when the U.K.'s Sun newspaper ran an article using poor poll data claiming that one in five Muslims had sympathy for violent jihadists in Syria, the hashtag #1in5Muslims was filled with equally dubious claims.
Reclaiming their voices
Farheen Khan, a writer and community activist in Mississauga, Ont., describes what it has been like to be a Muslim who's active on social media since the Paris attacks.
"It's definitely been a very eye-opening experience. Looking at how quickly the information is being shared on social media," she said.
"There are stories being shared about Muslims both positively and predominantly, mostly negatively, and the impact that that actually has on people like myself."
Khan said it's only natural for Muslims to respond with the humour and collective voice of these hashtags to negative comments and media coverage.
"When you start to see those things happening on in the media and you want to be able address it in a way that you can actually speak up against some of these things, particularly this IDing with Donald Trump. But also, i think it's important for us to be able to create a counter-narrative. I think it's just for us to be able to reclaim our voice," she said.
She also has had negative reaction to her own posts on her Twitter account.
"There's always going to be some people who will send you negative comments. For example, there was that tweet that I had put out that my father and I had a conversation about the hijab and safety."
Today my dad suggested that I take off my hijab until things are safer for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/muslims?src=hash">#muslims</a>. My response "It's a part of me & that won't change."—@Farheenk786
"While most of the comments were very positive from people, saying you shouldn't have to change yourself as the result of fear, there were some people who were very negative about it and said, well, maybe you shouldn't be in this country," said Khan.
Positivity and patience
But it's clear that Khan doesn't want to dwell on the negative when it comes to her interactions online.
"What I really appreciate on social media is the fact that people very quick to chime in and actually defend you, so there are some really great people within the social media community that I've gotten to be familiar with that are very supportive," she said.
This week, Khan launched a new Twitter account and hashtag, @MuslimsActually, to show a different side to life as a Muslim than the one portrayed in mass media.
"Our goal is to be able to educated people. I think that's the beginning of it. You can't eliminate hate but just adding more hate and anger. We need to be able to educate people in a positive way and just continue to be patient and ensure that you're getting your message across. As long as you're consistent in a positive messaging, I believe that people will eventually come around," she said.
Khan said that despite some of the negative comments that she and others receive, she encourages Muslims to express themselves online.
"I think it's important for Muslims to be able to share their opinions and their point of view on social media. Social media is a platform that allows an average, everyday person to share their story. It really does make a positive impact on people's lives if it's used in the right way," she said.