Journalists and news organisations love Twitter. The micro-blogging social network allows publishers and reporters to interact with readers and audiences, encouraging debate and discussion about articles and increase awareness of news brands.
But every now and then Twitter reminds us that tweets and hashtags can take on a life of their own. When Newsweek attempted to use the handle #MuslimRage to generate public conversation around its coverage of the violence sparked in the Middle East by anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims, the embattled title soon found itself at the centre of a social media backlash.
Printed in conjunction with an equally controversial article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Newsweek’s current front cover shows two (assumedly) Muslim men apparently incandescent with anger, accompanied by a headline declaring ‘MUSLIM RAGE: How I survived it. How we can end it.” Within a matter of hours #MuslimRage was trending on Twitter and had become the subject of widespread mirth.
A particular highlight of the online reaction to the cover has been Gawker’s ’13 Powerful Images of Muslim Rage’ – featuring bubble-blowing Egyptians and flag-waving children. Journalists around the world have responded with their own expressions of outrage, and former Newsweek employees have taken to Twitter to lament the decline of what was once a “real magazine”.
Only the most naïve of readers would assume that Newsweek was unaware of the reaction the images and articles would elicit. The magazine is no stranger to controversial front covers, and has been criticised in the not-too-distant past for publishing articles based on very little factual content. Funnily enough, the release of the ‘Muslim Rage’ cover was preceded by a piece written by Michael Wolff for the re-launched USAToday, in which Wolff condemns Newsweek editor Tina Brown’s habit of “courting attention with teasing covers and building her brand through the media itself” as a means of reviving the financial fortunes of a magazine on the verge of economic collapse.
No doubt executives at the struggling publication had hoped to raise the magazine’s profile by reinforcing its reputation as a source polemical news items, but it is a move that seems to have backfired. While controversy can indeed add to the allure of a news publication and provide a boost in circulation, its unlikely Newsweek’s new status as a magnet for ridicule will raise the magazine’s profile in the way it might have hoped.