Why Stop Islam Really Trended On Twitter After Brussels (It's Not For The Reason You'd Think)

Sadly, we've seen it before: A terrorist attack is followed by a spike in Islamophobic expressions, and sometimes violence against Muslims as well. Like many Twitter users, I was afraid that the cycle was kicking off immediately when I saw that #StopIslam was trending on Tuesday morning into the early afternoon, as the world learned more about the terrorist attacks in Brussels and ISIS claimed responsibility. Upon further investigation, though, it became clear that something beyond the expected was occurring with this hashtag.

The Washington Post reported that the hashtag has been around for at least five years. It didn't really pick up steam until Twitter users began responding negatively to it on Tuesday morning. Of course, they had something to respond to: People were using it to express their disdain toward Islam. However, according to The Washington Post, about 90 percent of the tweets containing the hashtag over a three-and-a-half-hour period were responding negatively to the hashtag itself.

Now, how this played out on Twitter was interesting. Many began using the hashtag only after seeing that it was trending, and were expressing their disgust that it was trending, thus helping it trend longer. Here are but a few examples of this:

Some opponents of the hashtag were a bit more deliberate in their appropriation of it, fitting the phrase "Stop Islam" into anti-Islamophobic phrases:

Still, there were plenty of hateful tweets interspersed on the feed using the #StopIslam hashtag:

The hashtags original purpose of expressing hatred of Islam is unfortunate. But we can take heart in the fact that, while Islamophobic backlash on social media spiked after the Paris attack, the backlash against the backlash was larger, according to a study that analyzed Tweets in November. If the #StopIslam trend was any indicator, the same held true on Tuesday following the Brussels attacks.

So be aware that #StopIslam is trending mainly because people are Tweeting against it. If you want to voice your opinion about the hashtag without contributing to its trending status, remember not to include the pound sign (#) before the phrase. A lovely alternative would be to use a different, clearly supportive hashtag, like #IslamIsNotTheProblem or #StopIslamophobia.