Muslims use social media to protest news coverage of North Carolina students’ deaths

Flowers at a tribute outside the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry for dentistry student Deah Shaddy Barakat, his new wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Flowers at a tribute outside the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry for dentistry student Deah Shaddy Barakat, his new wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C.
(Sara D. Davis / Getty Images)

The news broke faster and wider over social media than it did over America’s mainstream media: Three Muslim college students had been shot Tuesday evening in Chapel Hill, N.C., raising suspicion that they had been killed because of their religion.

The identities of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were not officially confirmed and publicly released by the authorities until early Wednesday.

Local news outlets paid close attention to the story overnight. But the killings especially took off among Muslims and Arabs on social media, who widely shared the victims’ names and photos and closely parsed the local coverage. News of the shooting caused revulsion across Europe and the Middle East, where it was daytime.


American media outside of North Carolina were largely slower to follow up on the story during the late night and early-morning hours. This energized longstanding fear among Muslims that the violent loss of Muslim lives would not get the same attention by the mainstream media as killings of white or Christian people.

“U won’t see this on the news because it’s about a Muslim,” one Muslim user tweeted overnight, in a sentiment that was retweeted more than 1,400 times and that was widely shared across social media. Many users also criticized CNN for an early-morning tweet that asked, “Did their faith play a role in the shooting?”

“THEIR FAITH!!!” one Egyptian user tweeted back, earning dozens of retweets. “how about the beliefs of the terrorist who shot them, CNN?” Egyptian Facebook and Twitter users widely shared a cartoon of a “mainstream media” cameraman standing over three bodies and yawning as he said, “3 young Muslims killed by a lone gunner? No breaking news here!”

Another user wrote in Arabic, “If the killer was an Arab the whole west would have launched a media war against Islam and Muslims, but they call it just a criminal offense when the killer is one of them.”

Another user said, “Of course there is no media fuss like what happened after Charlie Hebdo because the killer is American,” alluding to the massacre in which two Muslim gunmen killed 12 people at the satirical magazine’s offices in Paris.

Early Wednesday (at least in America), the British publication the Independent published an article by Sabbiyeh Pervez that declared, “Three young Muslims have been executed, but the media ignored it because of their religion.”

“At the time of writing this, many still haven’t given it any coverage, and people are furious,” Pervez wrote. “Do the lives of Muslims not matter? they have asked. Is our blood cheap? Why do we not get the same media attention when a crime is committed against us?”

The criticism drew some snark by American foreign-affairs analyst Andrew Exum. “Really thankful for time difference that’s allowed the European MSM to have 5-7 hours of condescending self-righteousness over the U.S. MSM,” Exum wrote on Twitter, using the popular acronym for mainstream media. “‘It’s shameful and disgusting that the U.S. media is ignoring this terrible tragedy,’ the European journalist tweeted at 3:30 a.m. ET.”

By midday Wednesday in the U.S., the story was getting prominent coverage from mainstream American news outlets, some of which sent reporters to Chapel Hill.

But the bitterness remained, as did the hashtag #muslimlivesmatter -- adapted from last year’s widely popularized #blacklivesmatter -- which turned into an instant platform of protest for Muslims who saw their lives as being devalued. Arabic-speaking users used a hashtag calling the shooting the “Chapel Hill Massacre.”

“New form of white privilege: media covered something after you worked to make it the #1 hashtag in the world, so no bias against Muslims!” one user tweeted sarcastically.

“US media covered shooting *BY* Muslims in FRANCE constantly FOR DAYS!” CNN contributor Sally Kohn tweeted Wednesday. “No remotely comp coverage for shooting *OF* Muslims right here @ home.”

Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report from Berlin.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news