Hoax check: Mapping the lies about refugees

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Telling lies about immigrants, and especially about Muslim refugees, fosters racism, xenophobia and persecution. With social media, lies spread rapidly and their sources quickly become diffused and anonymized, avoiding all responsibility. A new German website offers a counter to the nasty-rumor problem, but a lasting solution requires each of us to respond, exercising personal integrity and responsibility on social media.

In Europe, lies and slanders against Muslim refugees increased and  vspread rapidly. The Washington Post reports:

“Misinformation and rumors that painted refugees as criminals or worse have spread widely online. In some cases it was silly – a viral image of a supposed recent refugee holding an Islamic State flag that showed neither a recent refugee nor an Islamic State flag – but in other cases it was surprisingly important. One high-profile case involving rape allegations against a group of refugee men sparked a war of words between Russia and Germany, despite the fact it was soon dismissed as fabricated.”

Karolin Schwarz and Lutz Helm took action to refute and debunk these lies. They created a Google map and associated website called Hoaxmap. (It’s in German, so go to the Washington Post article for a description if you only read English.) So far, Hoaxmap has investigated and debunked 246 lies, mostly originating in Germany, but with a few from neighboring countries.

The United States has its share of lies, damn lies and (false) statistics about Muslims and about refugees and immigrants in general. Two recent examples come from Willmar and St. Cloud, Minnesota. (Minnesota is no worse than anywhere else, but it’s home, so these examples are easy to find.) The two local newspapers responded admirably. The St. Cloud-related Facebook post told a preposterous story of a Somali clerk in a local Walmart insisting that a customer remove a necklace with a cross in order to be served. The St. Cloud Times investigated and found that “The post was shared on Facebook thousands of times, with many commenters expressing outrage. However, there seems to be no evidence that the incident actually happened.” (My favorite debunker, Snopes.com, also investigated and found no truth at all in the story.)

The Willmar Tribune also responded to a “hateful, misinformed piece circulating on Facebook, email and other social media,” with facts and reason:

“Policing the misinformation spread via social media is an impossible task. Much of it leaves us simply shaking our heads.

“That being said, there are some things so ugly, misinformed, ignorant and just plain hateful toward another religion, it is time to speak up with an intelligent response.”

Some years back, I responded to a compendium of lies about immigrants sent to me via email. Because I knew the person who forwarded me the email, I spent time researching and debunking the falsehoods in the email. I asked that she stop forwarding it, but she refused. Her rationale: “I don’t care if it’s true — it’s interesting.”

That’s a failure of personal integrity and responsibility. Forwarding emails or reposting on social media without regard for the truth (or even forwarding articles without reading them first) can spread poison. But besides taking care in forwarding, when we encounter “hateful, misinformed” stories, each of us can speak up and speak out against the hate.

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Filed under immigration, media, race, religion

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