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Want to change the conversation on violent extremism?

News van outside of primary campaign event in Urbandale, Iowa
News van outside of primary campaign event in Urbandale, Iowa Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

 

Have you noticed that since the media started covering ISIS, Islamophobia in the U.S. has gone up? 

We noticed too.

In fact, our friends working to reduce military spending started noticing that every time an ISIS beheading made the evening news, their work got a little bit harder. Ok, a lot harder. We wondered if it had anything to do with how the media were covering extremism. We decided to find out. So we launched a study. Here's what we found.

 

We never expected our findings to be good. But what we found was very, very bad.

  • When the media cover extremism, they mention Islam 90% of the time. Even when religion is not key to the story. Islamophobia much?
  • When the media cover extremist groups, they frame them as either crazy or cunning - and sometimes both in the same story. Any chance that these groups are more complex than these charicatures would imply? Except that if you were to humanize all the actors, it would be difficult to justify the part where...
  • Violent responses to conflict are covered five times more often than nonviolent responses. In other words, it makes sense to bomb people who don't or can't respond to reason. It makes sense to bomb people that are so coldly calculating, they must be stopped by force.  


So what?

These findings matter because our national conversation about race, religion, and violence is at an all-time low. We need to change that. Here's what you can do:

  • Have a particularly bad example of Islamophobic coverage? Tell us about it and we'll write about it here. Tweet at the journalist or post comments on the news site telling the author what's humanizing, and what's not. Tell him or her it's not ok to dehumanize anyone, ever.
  • Seen any coverage that stereotypes extremists as cunning or crazy, or that stereotypes military intervention as the only way forward? Write a letter to the editor asking for better coverage of the root causes of violence. Let us know so we can write about it.
  • Read any news lately about substantive peace building, in your location or anywhere? Thank the author on the news site or in the Twitterverse for doing a great job. Share it with us and your networks. 

About the Author

AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Communications research | Analytics | Social inequality. Beth leads AFSC’s messaging and opinion research, which she uses to develop evidence-based communications guidance for advocates and citizens to ‘change the narrative’ on war and violence. Prior to AFSC, Beth’s research and professional work focused on health inequality in the Americas.

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