The power of social media has been proven time and time again, as demonstrated by the ‘Kony 2012’ outreach that went viral in a matter of days, there is however a common trend with these types of social media news outbreaks. They are often related to raw human emotion, a sense of making a difference, speaking up and defending a useful cause. This was no different in the recent killing of Shaima Alawadi, news of her tragic and brutal death dominated social media during the course of this passing week.
Shaima Alawadi died on Saturday (24.03.2012), after beeing serverly beaten on the head with a tire iron in her home on Wednesday (21.03.2012). Next to her a threatening note was found saying “go back to you country, you terrorist”. Shaima Alawadi was a 32-year-old woman, from Iraq living in El Cajon (California) with her family including five kids. The family members believe the woman may have been targeted because she was Middle Eastern and wearing a Hijab.
After news about her death was published, numerous social media communities on a variety of platforms engaged in heated discussions surrounding her tragic passing. Due to the occurrence being emotionally charged, especially because it is religious in nature, not to mention the overall sensitivity in recent years around terrorism, islamophobia and racism, it is a interesting and valuable example of how SM users disseminate news in the social media milieu.
Out of the 3176 posts captured from 21/03/12 – 25/03/12, the majority of discussions took place on Sunday with 3110 posts. The topic was discussed predominantly among males with 40% share of coverage, while 15% were female and a total of 45% were unknown. A vast majority 62% of the posts were written in English, in comparison to Arabic which made up 38%. Overall the bulk of comments captured were ascribed to Twitter, followed by Online News Sites and Blogs.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the posts were negative in sentiment, by sharing the news (e.g. “Shaima Alawadi Dead: Iraqi Woman Who Was Severely Beaten In California Home Dies http://t.co/36s2lOXv via @huffingtonpost”) or expressing the inconceivability of the incidence and of the overall situation concerning racism: “Shaima, a Muslim woman was beaten to death in California in her own home for wearing a Hijab. This world actually disgusts me… #RIPShaima”.
Especially within the Arabic language the hate of the muslim religion was questioned:
“مروه الشربيني قتلت في ألمانيا شيماء العوضي قتلت في أمريكا والسبب إرتدائهما للحجاب هل نجرؤ على قول أن الألمان والأمريكان إرهابيون؟”
(Translated: Marwa Al Sherbini was murdered in Germany , Shaima Al Awady was murdered in the USA and the reason why was because she was wearing Al Hijab, can we dare to say that Germans and Americans are terrorists?);
“اثرت بي كثيرا قصة شيماء العوضي التي قتلت بكالفورنياالهذه الدرجةوصل الحقد علينا في قلوبهم يقتلون ام لخمسة اطفال بسبب حجاب على رأسها”
(Translated: I was so sad to hear Shaima’s story, do they hate us that much? They murder a mother of five kids because she is wearing Hijab).
However, some of the entries were more positive in tone, by expressing condolences to the family and looking forward to a better world or calling for justice, like: “RIP Shaima Alawadi. My thoughts & prayers are with your family. I hope that whoever committed this heinous crime will be brought to justice” or “رحمة الله عليج شيماء العوضي” (translated: May GOD bless your soul Shaima Al Awadi).
Moreover, 10% of social media users compared Alawadi’s death to that of Trayvon Martin (17 year old), by identifying both as hate crimes and drawing a parallel between a hoodie and a hijab. Martin was killed in February by George Zimmerman, who said he was acting in self-defense and has still not been charged to this day – Martin was unarmed but was wearing a hoodie.
Sunday saw the likes of thousands of users tweeting for the cause with words like “A teenager murdered for wearing a hoody. A woman murdered for wearing a hijab. Our hearts ache for you. #RIPTrayvonMartin #RIPShaima”.
According to our Buzz-Analysis, Twitter was the key platform in spreading news and conversing about the death of Shaima Alawadi mainly by using the Hashtags #RIPshaima, #JusticeforShaima, #ShaimaAlawadi and #MillionHijabMarch.
The Hashtag #RIPshaima was even listed on the Twitter trend list for the UAE, which resulted in people engaging about the incident and spreading the information: “I’m going to start a twitter campaign to show interfaith support for Shaima Alawadi (and her fam)- anyone interested in joining in?”.
Similarly, Facebook was used as a discussion platform, instantaneously by Sunday morning there were already three pages launched, where users expressed their feelings about the death of Shaima Alawadi and Monday morning saw the likes of an additional 3 pages. The various pages already had up to almost 3000 likes:
In addition, there were numerous discussions and articles in the blogosphere, which surrounded the death of Shaima, such as an online campaign for justice, and various other empathic statements and even Pinterest had content related to her passing.
In conclusion, as proven in the results of our buzz-analysis, an incident like the death of Shaima Alawadi was heavily discussed within the social media environment – it was powerful enough to spill over from traditional media channels onto the blogosphere with thousands of social media users fighting for justice. We can attribute the volumes to the fact that the story around Shaima Alawadi is not only representative of the tragedy of an individual but is addressing the wide and emotional area of racism that is felt by the masses.
The Buzz Report monitors trends and themes that dominate current discussions on various Social Media platforms. This explicit search was conducted about the death of Shaima Alawadi , covering all countries. The mentioned posts and comments were captured in both English and Arabic from the 21st of March 2012 until the 25th of March. The keywords for the search were: “Shaima and California”, “Shaima Alawadi”, the Hashtag “#RIPshaima”, all in different spellings and as well the correspondents in Arabic.
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