Anti-Muslim content surged online as the tragic news broke on Monday of a fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with far-right figures weaponizing news of the seemingly accidental fire to link it to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to scapegoat Muslims and Islam. A Media Matters analysis found that anti-Muslim sentiment spiked on 4chan and 8chan on April 15, while the story containing the words “Muslim” or “Islam” that got the most engagements on Facebook was from an anti-Muslim bigot and claimed, “Jihadis reveled in the fire engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral.”
On anonymous message boards 4chan and 8chan, posts containing mentions of either “Muslim” or “Islam,” references to 9/11, or offensive anti-Muslim slurs skyrocketed on April 15 well beyond the average in the days before Notre Dame burned. On 4chan’s “politically incorrect” board, “/pol/,” the thread with the most posts containing those search terms was an April 15 discussion about the fire at Notre Dame. From April 9 to April 14, we looked at spikes in mentions of these words and found 10 high spots. The average number of mentions from those spikes was 209. But on April 15, 897 posts contained those words -- over four times the average.
Media Matters also analyzed Spike data for Facebook posts containing the search terms “Muslim” or “Islam,” which showed that the post that earned the most interactions on April 15 came from anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, who linked to a story on her site accusing Muslims of laughing at the sight of Notre Dame burning. (The story was based on a far-right hoax that baselessly claimed people who reacted with laughing emojis to a Facebook livestream of Notre Dame burning were Muslim). The post earned almost 38,000 interactions -- well over twice the 16,506 interactions of the next highest search result, a HuffPost story unrelated to the burning cathedral. Geller’s Facebook post overperformed her usual content by 15.71 times, a metric which Spike calculates “by comparing a story or post’s performance to the publisher’s historical average.”
French prosecutors have reportedly ruled out arson as a cause for the tragic fire. This is not the first time news cycle events have triggered waves of bigotry on anonymous message boards: A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that there was a spike in posts containing racist terms on 4chan following President Donald Trump’s election.
Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.