Atheists versus Theists: Religious Polarisation in Arab Online Communities

Youssef Al Hariri, Walid Magdy, Maria K Wolters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In this study, we investigate the extent of polarisation among theist versus atheist groups on Arab Twitter and their networks. We find four main self-identified groups of Arab users that can be distinguished by different attitudes to religion. In addition to Atheists and Theists, there are Rationalists, who promote rational thinking regardless of religious affiliation, and Tanweeri, who promote religious reforms. Through a keyword search of Twitter account handles and biographies, we identified 2,673 active, public Twitter accounts that clearly state whether they are Atheists, Theists, Tanweeri or Rationalists and analysed the interactions among themselves and the accounts that are followed, retweeted, or mentioned the most in their networks. Depending on the network analysed, we found between four and seven sub-communities that highlight the rich socio-cultural context in which discussions of religion, non-religion, and religious reform unfold. While there was clear online polarisation between atheists and theists, Rationalist and Tanweeri accounts are spread among the two polarised sides, acting as natural bridges. We also found a clear separation between Arab atheists who engage with Arab accounts promoting atheism and those who primarily engage with Western accounts promoting atheism. We discuss implications for the study of religious debate and religious polarisation on social media.
Original languageEnglish
Article number361
Number of pages28
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Volume5
Issue numberCSCW2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2021
Event24th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing - Virtual
Duration: 23 Oct 202127 Oct 2021
https://cscw.acm.org/2021/

Keywords

  • datasets
  • Social media
  • Network analysis
  • Polarisation
  • Religion
  • Islam
  • Atheism
  • Arabs

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