Why aren’t moderate Muslims condemning these atrocities? Where are the marches by the moderate Muslims? Where are they? Why don’t they stand up? The problem is the silent majority.
All the above are quotes taken from Twitter users in the wake of the attacks in Brussels on Tuesday 22nd March, and there were plenty more. After the Paris attacks, after the Tunisia attacks, after the murder of Lee Rigby, the same. Quiet at first, it is now one of the prevailing themes in every online discussion of terrorist attacks.
The majority is not silent, of course. After every atrocity, social media is overrun with condemnation from moderate voices in the Muslim community and beyond. As one commentator pointed out, we have an established vocabulary of digital reflection when it comes to terror: the cartoon, the lit-up monuments, and the hashtags of solidarity, grief and support.
In the face of this cacophony, it seems odd that the so-called ‘silent majority’ can be labelled as silent.
The hashtag #StopIslam, which trended in the UK in the hours after the Brussels attacks, started as a condemnation of what some saw as the root cause of the tragedy. But the few Islamophobic messages were swept away in a torrent of moderate messages. For anyone following it, they must have come face to face with their ‘silent majority’: shouting, mourning, and rejecting the attacks.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Social media isn’t built for it. The foundations of social media platforms, without exception, is to serve you content that is relevant, palatable, and clickable. Follow one left-wing firebrand and you’ll be recommended a few more. Follow a certain hashtag and your news and views are shaped almost exclusively by a vocal minority of users whose content is held up by the community as representative of their views. There is no space for dissent.
A user who learned about the Brussels attacks from #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter) or #rednationrising, learned about it through a narrow lens of Islamophobic anger, their news littered with warnings about Mosque building and ‘white genocide’. There are no dissenting voices, little balance, no editorial control. A user following the #Brussels hashtag on Telegram would instead be confronted with celebrations of the bombers’ martyrdom. No dissenting voices.
Social media is a wonderful way of learning about the world. Every user is a reporter, eyes and ears and a voice. Hundreds of millions turn to social media for news, reportage and opinion. But the structure of social media distorts a reader’s views, wrapping every event in a cloud of opinion that closely mirrors their own while being exaggerated by vocal extremists and guerrilla radicals that are tolerated as frequently as moderate opposition is bullied and silenced.
There is no silent majority. There is, however, a majority you are not tuned in to. Their silence is radio silence, a transmission error. They bellow on a different spectrum of wavelengths, their best hope being a single, scratchy message as you tune the dial to your preferred station.