Terrified: How Civil Society Organizations Shape America's Understanding of Islam (book manuscript under contract with Princeton University Press)
Précis. Seven U.N. workers lie dead in Fayzabad, Afghanistan. An angry mob stands above their bodies chanting “Death to Christians” and “Death to Obama.” Thousands of miles away, a radical pastor confronts a growing media circus outside his diminutive congregation in Gainesville, Florida. He burned a Qur’an earlier that day, he explains, because Muslims are secretly plotting to overthrow the U.S. government and establish an Islamic “superstate.” This is the narrative of a small—yet rapidly expanding—network of fringe organizations that captivates the media, shapes counter-terrorism policy, and coordinates a forty million dollar campaign to mobilize public opinion against Islam. Together, these organizations threaten core American principles of religious tolerance, validate extremists who argue the United States is at war with Islam, and marginalize mainstream Muslim organizations uniquely positioned to discredit such claims.
How did anti-Muslim fringe organizations commandeer the collective identity of Islam in the American public sphere? Terrified addresses this timely and important question through a novel evolutionary lens. Synthesizing theories of culture, social networks, and emotions, I explain how fringe organizations not only gain visibility within the public sphere, but also redefine the contours of mainstream discourse in so doing. To illustrate this theory, I use plagiarism detection software to track the influence of 120 civil society organizations in more than 50,000 newspaper articles and television transcripts over eight years. Combined with 40 in-depth interviews with the leaders of these organizations, The Fringe Effect presents an unprecedented panorama of the cultural consequences of collective behavior in the public sphere.
Christopher A. Bail. 2012. "The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse about Islam," American Sociological Review, 77(7).
Abstract. Numerous studies indicate that civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream messages that resonate with prevailing discursive themes. Yet these case studies of highly influential organizations obscure the much larger population that have little or no impact. It is therefore unclear whether civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream discourses or if they become part of the mainstream because of their success. I present an evolutionary theory of how discursive fields settle after major historical ruptures that highlights framing, social networks, and emotional energy. To illustrate this theory, I use plagiarism detection software to compare 1,084 press releases about Muslims produced by 120 civil society organizations to 50,407 newspaper articles and television transcripts produced between 2001 and 2008. Although most organizations deployed pro-Muslim discourses after the September 11th attacks, I show that anti-Muslim fringe organizations dominated the mass media via displays of fear and anger. Institutional amplification of this emotional energy, I argue, created a gravitational pull or “fringe effect” that realigned inter-organizational networks and altered the contours of mainstream discourse itself.
2) HOW DO CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS ATTRACT PUBLIC ATTENTION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA?
Social media has become one of the most important tools available to non-profit organizations to call attention to their cause, recruit new members, attract media attention, or create political change. Yet for all the many implications of social media, very little is known about why certain social media messages "go viral" while others do not. The "Find Your People" Study aims to fill this gap through the first large-scale analysis of millions of Facebook posts by thousands of non-profit organizations that are analyzed via a proprietary Facebook "app."
For more information, please visit: www.findyourpeople.org