As we enter the peak “Age of Millennials” when the so-called millennials assume the global economic mantle — it is a good time to take a fresh look at the age-old issue of combating bigotry and prejudice. With the advent of social media and networking sites, media has evolved into something that everyone can be a part of. When almost anyone can post anything online, it is often hard to decipher what is the truth.
Still, one thing’s for certain: the boom of social media and the so-called “news websites” has had a big impact on the problem of combating bigotry. Modern media is indeed a powerful tool, one might even say a weapon, for communication — both good and bad.
Let’s start with social media. It empowers people to post their thoughts to the entire world while being cocooned in their homes. While this has been used for good, through sharing positive messages which promote peace and prosperity, that is not always the case.
When a U.S. senator asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “Can you define hate speech?” it was arguably the most important challenge that all social networks face: how to identify bigotry inside its community.
“Islamophobia” is a real thing. On Twitter, a trendy meme traveling around recently depicts the “Islamic Terrorist Network” spread across a map of the United States. Menacing hate speech is all over social media, in plain sight, carrying hashtags like #WhiteGenocide, #MigrantInvasion, and #AmericaUnderAttack. Quite clearly, Muslims have been the target of increasing hostility in the United States since Trump’s election.
The latest research by New Americareveals that at least a third of non-Muslim Americans consider Islam incompatible with American values. On the other hand, the research said that a large majority of US citizens — 74 percent — think “a lot” of bigotry against Muslims exists.
Moreover, there are numerous reports and casesdemonstrating how social media is being abused to spread derogatory messages and racism. You are sure to have come across many such instances yourself. There are haters and trolls in literally every social space trying to create controversies and grab attention. And sure, it is best to ignore them, but sometimes they cross lines of religion and culturethat some people can’t simply ignore.
Rising anti-Muslim bigotry also comes amid a rise in hatred targeting other religious and ethnic minorities.
Our Responsibility with Media
As we understand how potent a weapon the internet is, we must appreciate the responsibility it comes with. Everything we write anywhere on the internet should be done in a way that brings people together, not drives them apart. Like Mufti Menk so beautifully says in his video “The Best Hack for Fame on Social Media”: We must always speak to others with utmost respect and show kindness to everyone, both on the internet and in real life.
Then there are fake news websiteswhich have the primary goal of just getting more traffic; because traffic (and social shares) translate into higher revenue. Many of them go overboard with bogus “news,” conspiracy theories, controversies, and downright hatred, just to get more eyes and comments on their website.
Furthermore, there are bloggers and self-proclaimed “experts” who disregard scientific and academic opinion, spreading discredited sociological theories that kindle and vindicate acts of discrimination and even violence against members of certain faiths.
Not to mention the full-fledged online communities (on sites such as Reddit and Tumblr) where people openly disparage religions they consider “worthless”, without any sense of moral judgment. These bigoted groups of people are almost on the verge of online religious wars—be it anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, or anti-Black.
Combating Bigotry — Final Thoughts
So, the question still remains: how do we tackle the problems of bigotry and racial prejudice?
While there is obviously no concrete answer to this question, I do have a couple of possible steps that may help in the long run.
Firstly, social media sites such as Facebookand Twitter can have more rigorous moderation policies to take down internet trolls for good. Moreover, tracking people on the internet is much easier today, so authorities can and should take severe offline action against people practicing online racism or any form of online bigotry.
And secondly, the common folk — we — decide what goes on the internet. Raising general awareness of these sensitive issues among millennials and the following generations will definitely make a big difference in our struggle to combat bigotry.
A lot more can be done to make our use of modern media “right.” And there is obviously still a long way to go. But proper use of modern media can definitely be our game-changing weapon.
Malaz Majanni is the CEO of OnePath Network, a world class Muslim film production studio, based in Sydney, Australia.
Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash