After the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya and the death of four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a known Somali-Dutch critic of Islam, wrote a controversial cover story for Newsweek magazine titled “Muslim Rage & the Last Gasp of Islamic Hate.” In her article, she criticizes the violent demonstrations and protests in the Middle East against an obscure, low-budget film, The Innocence of Muslims, that defames the character of the Prophet Muhammad, and discusses that these violent reactions to offensive materials represent the mainstream Muslim community.
Newsweek wanted to capitalize on Ali’s prominence by inviting social media to share their opinions on Ali’s story using the hashtag ‘#MuslimRage.’
Many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, were offended by the stereotypes the article perpetuated, particularly the concept of “Muslim rage,” and proceeded to turn Newsweek‘s hashtag into a comical, sarcastic meme that went viral the rest of the week.
One tweet said, “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him.#MuslimRage”
Another tweet said, “When you go to Islamic school for ten years and can’t speak a lick of Arabic #MuslimRage”
Integrating social media to draw readers into a conversation about your magazine’s articles is a smart move to create further engagement and two-way communication, but this was a particularly unappealing invitation for a large segment of Newsweek‘s audience, so the results were not expected. On one hand, people were talking about Newsweek and the cover article, but on the other hand, they were ridiculed for pandering to an extreme, polarizing viewpoint and assuming there’d be no disagreement.
The cover was also very exaggerated with two bearded Arab men yelling and the words ‘MUSLIM RAGE’ plastered above the picture. As a news magazine, Newsweek should consider the implications of the images they disseminate and the types of messages they are sending. Labeling 1.5 million Muslims as full of rage and responsible for the violent actions and protests of a small group is inaccurate and irresponsible journalism. Clearly, the hilarious tweets by Muslims prove Ali’s argument wrong as well as the countless blog posts, press conferences and letters sent to share their condolences for the death of the U.S. Ambassador and condemnation of the violence. Why were none of these positive reactions covered as extensively as the negative ones?
It is important for a Newsweek employee to examine the #MuslimRage trend on Twitter to better understand how readers all over the world react to provocative titles and stories like Ali’s if they want to maintain a reputation of credible, accurate and fair journalism. I would have pre-tested with a focus group the cover, headline and hashtag idea before sending it out in order to be prepared for possible reactions and figure out how to curate a thoughtful, serious discussion about critical global issues. If protests start over the Newsweek article too, then the magazine is only adding fuel to the fire instead of responsibly analyzing a complicated geopolitical issue.
Do you think the unexpected viral turn of Newsweek‘s #MuslimRage hashtag was harmful, neutral or beneficial for the newsmagazine? How should news media handle potentially provocative articles that get shared through social media?