United Kingdom: #BlameTheMuslims Twitter Hashtag Spins Out of Context

Sanum Ghafoor, who goes by the Twitter handle @Strange_Sanum, is a 19-year old Muslim student in the UK. Aggravated at how Muslims were immediately accused for any act of violence, especially following last week's Oslo attacks, Sanum let out steam by tweeting with the hashtag #blamethemuslims. With dash of satire and lots of sarcasm, Sanum posted the following tweets:

@Strange_Sanum: Here we go again… lets blame Muslims for everything that goes wrong in the world.

She continued on to post a number of tweets using the #blamethemuslims hashtag:

@Strange_Sanum: I don't have a job. #blamethemuslims

The hashtag was adopted amongst her friends and followers, reaching high levels of participation which eventually caused the term to trend locally in the UK, and later globally. As we tend to see with topics that reach such a wide array of audiences, it was wholly taken out of context, leading to a plethora of frustrated users.

Some users sent Sanum hate messages and even death threats, while others took the hashtag seriously, and posted accusations towards Muslims. Conversation spun out of control, keeping the topic trending, as more users posted their thoughts and frustrations.

On her blog, Clare Neruda describes the irony of how people misinterpreted Sanum's original motivation:

Unfortunately it seems as though rather a lot of people just aren’t getting the joke. There have been many calls for twitter to ban the TT (and a strange amount of people who consider twitter’s allowing of the trend to be particularly unfair in relation to the recent banning of #justinbieber) and a number of people have voiced fears concerning possible repercussions. However the majority of the people who have utilised the hashtag seem to have done so purely to vent their anger about the perceived racism of the trend, without researching its origins before forming an opinion. Irony upon irony; the very thing Sanum seems to have been satirising has been replayed by millions in their misguided attempts to rid the (twitter)world of an ‘evil’ that is no more than a product of misinterpretation.

And here's a quote from Nabeela Zahir‘s interview of Sanum:

Sanum articulated that the popularity of the trend highlighted an underlying need to discuss the way in which Muslims are portrayed, as well as the rising popularity of right wing extremism throughout Europe. The reporting around the Oslo attacks, were part of a wider trend of portraying Muslims as aggressors and religious fundamentalists
“After 9/11 there was a shift in the way Muslims were referred to in the media, and how they were reported on. It became an issue about Islam, rather than deranged individuals who justify violence with religion. It’s continued ever since.”
Sanum hopes through comedy and satire she is able to show that there is more to Muslims than terrorism, by showing that Muslims can be funny too she believes people can begin to overcome misunderstandings about Islam.

Twitter has become an indispensable tool for information dissemination. But as we talk about the need for information verification, we must remember that context, or lack thereof, is another critical attribute that can easily get lost. #blamethemuslims is an example of an information cascade that starts with good intentions, and ends up being counterproductive. That said, it did a great job at maintaining people's attention on the topic.

@Strange_Sanum: this trending topic is bigger than me. its highlighting a growing prejudice against the muslim community.

Keep posting hashtags. But whatever you do, think twice before you #blamethemuslims.

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