Illuminating Voices In The Dark: The utilisation of communication technology within online Arab atheist communities
Abstract: The presence of atheists within the Muslim world has begun to receive global attention after a number of cases in which atheist bloggers and writers in majority Muslim countries were killed for criticising Islam. The rise in number of Arab atheist Facebook groups has sparked conversation about the rise in number of atheists across the Arab world, and to what extent the use of social media platforms has facilitated this. This study examines 2 such Facebook groups and aims to explore the way in which social media platforms can be used to bring a geographically diverse group of people together to form a collective group identity, and to provoke societal change. The research was conducted using qualitative data, gathered using open ended interview and survey questions, alongside quantitative data which was gathered from closed survey questions and raw survey data in an attempt to understand how communication technology is used by these groups to form a collective identity among their members and to achieve shared objectives. The study lies within the frame of new social movement theory, with particular focus on the ever evolving role which online communications can play in developing aspects of a given society. The results showed that social media had given members from both groups the ability to share experiences, develop a collective identity, and utilise their new found visibility to provide the voices of atheists in the Arab world with an authority which they had been lacking. The study found that the freedom for atheists to unite online in large number was exposing closeted atheists as well as practising Muslims to opinions which would not have been as vocalised in the real world. The freedom for both parties to involve themselves in the group has reflected some of the difficulties faced in the real world, but has importantly opened up a dialogue and is working toward the acceptance of atheism within majority Muslim societies.
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