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How to talk about profiling and surveillance of Muslims: Four key takeaways [study]

Media Uncovered  |  By Beth Hallowell, Apr 18, 2017
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Using research to help change the narrative

Photo: AFSC

Moving people to take action on the issues that matter takes sharp, focused messages that are grounded in shared values, as the Opportunity Agenda shows in their report, Vision, Values, Voice. Time and time again, research has shown that facts by themselves don't inspire people to change their behavior or their thinking. Instead, what listeners need to motivate them are compelling frames and messages that speak to the concerns that they have in their daily lives.

This why we're excited to share the results of our new study on frames and messages that can help motivate people to take action against the profiling and surveillance of Muslims. Here are four key takeaways from our study:

  1. If you are speaking to a progressive audience, frame your message in terms of "respecting human rights." For example: "Respecting human rights is an essential, universal value. We all benefit when we uphold the dignity and worth of all people."
  2. If you are speaking to a more moderate audience, however, frame your message in terms of "safety and peace." For example: "All of us deserve to feel safe from hatred and to live and pray in peace."
  3. Try using different combinations of these frames when you're talking to different audiences. Combining human rights language with language that speaks to people's sense of safe and peaceful communities is likely to be a winning combination.
  4. Whatever you do, don't frame your message in negative terms. Crisis fatigue is a real thing. When you frame your message in terms of things like "profiling and surveillance sow the seeds of hate," even listeners that agree with you don't feel empowered to take action. Instead, they feel shut down.

In the coming weeks we'll be sharing more results from our study. In the meantime, check out our Communities against Islamophobia program. And, if you try any of these frames or messages out, tell us about it on Facebook or Twitter!

About the Author

Beth Hallowell is a cultural anthropologist and the Communications Research Director at AFSC. Follow her on Twitter at @bethhallowell.