In the 2016 Presidential Election, vocalized anti-Muslim sentiment was at an all-time high. This campaign was sparked following a prolonged battle of words between Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Khizr and Ghazala Khan (the Muslim-American parents of deceased U.S. Army Captain, Humayun Khan), after the Khans' speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Trump insinuated that Mrs. Khan may not have spoken at the DNC as she stood by her husband's side because she may not have been "allowed to" as a result of the faith she practices (when in reality, it was because she was still too heartbroken to speak about her son in public).
In response, to show Trump just how strong and vocal Muslim women are, multiple Muslim, Arab, and South Asian rights organizations convened and launched #CanYouHearUsNow.
Muslim women around the world tweeted with the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow, showcasing their diverse voices, talents, and successes. From journalists to activists to academics and more, these women spoke out about how they regularly speak out to make the world a better place – and maybe the Republican nominee just needed to listen.
This was a multi-organizational, multi-faceted effort to change the public face of Islam. While ReThink Media implemented the strategy, MPower Change, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and other advocacy organizations rallied members to participate. Influential Muslim spokespeople like Dalia Mogahed and Linda Sarsour also built out the echo chamber around the campaign.
We were especially strategic in that, once we had gained traction on Twitter by focused and unique tweeting within a concerted timeframe, we then pitched the story to reporters at traditional media outlets with supplementary screenshots of the top tweets. This garnered significant media attention in outlets like The New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Politico, NBC News, and Mashable, among many others.
The formula that has worked so well when we've done campaigns like these with our coalition in the past is: 1) having buy-in from our coalition partners, who are key drivers on the campaign at its start; 2) choosing a hashtag that allows people to personalize the message and tell their story, along with a visual; 3) tweeting within a concerted timeframe to boost amplification; 4) mid-campaign (hour two or so), pitching it to reporters at traditional media outlets to gain additional traction beyond social media; and 5) sharing an analytical recap of number of tweets and impressions, most influential tweets, etc. with members of our coalition so we can see what worked and what didn't.
Most of all, this campaign helped Muslim women take back their narrative, at a time when their perceived "oppression" under Islam is used as a means to implement terrible policies, and when they are the most frequent targets of hate crimes and bias incidents. Social media democratizes voice share if used properly, and we've found that it is best used to amplify voices often ignored by mainstream media (or as a way for mainstream media to pay attention and tell the right stories).
Twitter was flooded with personal testimonials, support and posts surrounding the #CanYouHearUsNow campaign. Muslim women and allies tweeted their personal experiences defying Donald Trump's stereotype of Muslim women following his unfounded comments about Ghazala Khan not speaking during her husband's DNC speech. Over the course of the campaign, there were 67,100 tweets from about 45,000 users, with a potential reach of almost 390 million impressions. Out of the entire conversation, 61% of those who participated were women. Despite the majority being Muslim women, there were also tweets by Non-Muslim women, Muslim men and Non-Muslim men.
But beyond the straight metrics that social media can tell you, some of the greatest results were from folks learning more about Muslim women and busting stereotypes. There were tweets from fewer from trolls than anticipated, and more tweets from folks on Twitter applauding Muslim women and tweeting about how much they had learned about how kickass Muslim women can be. This kind of culture shift is exactly what a campaign like this hopes for.