Islam and Covid on UK Twitter in early 2020

Islam and Covid on UK Twitter in early 2020

Sean Durbin
20/05/2024

Analysis | English | UK

Dr Sean Durbin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University

In addition to the ethnographic fieldwork that we are conducting across different communities in Europe for this project, we have also been working on a social media strand, aimed at helping us understand how people online were discussing religion in relation to the restrictions imposed in the early months of the pandemic from March to June 2020.

To do this we have been using a social listening platform that allows us to scrape publicly available data off the web and analyse it, making it useful to conduct discourse analysis of large amounts of naturally occurring data. In this context, scraping refers to a technique for the automated collection of online data. Scrapers are essentially bits of software code that enable researchers to automatically download data from the web, which can then be classified and modelled in different ways. 

Using boolean search terms related to Islam, Christianity and other religious traditions in conjunction with pandemic related keywords such as lockdown, COVID-19, etc, we originally hoped to see how different communities talked about what they were doing to adapt their practices to a the sudden requirement to stay indoors. However, in an effort at cross-country comparability, as well as other practical considerations, we opted instead to focus on the public discussion that was occurring online about religion/religious communities, and related issues (e.g. religious freedom).

What we have found in the UK, is that Muslims and Islam were vastly overrepresented in this online discussion. Although Muslims represent roughly 6% of the population in the UK they made up roughly 75% of the online discussion of religious groups in our data scrape. Christians and Christianity on the other hand made up only 19% of mentions online.

What accounts for this over representation? Based on our analysis of the most engaged tweets, much of the conversation around Muslims online was driven in some way by claims or beliefs that Muslims would not abide by lockdown rules, especially over the Ramadan period, and therefore would contribute to the spread of COVID-19. This topic was then spread further by other Twitter users who would mock or rebuke these claims, all of which contributed to the over-representation of Muslims in public Twitter discourse during our period of focus.

This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.