OPINION

The bullhorns of misinformation

the-bullhorns-of-misinformation

We don’t know whether this particular item of fake news first appeared on a television news broadcast or was initially hatched by some fringe far-right website. Whether it began as a reporting error or whether, as it was more widely transmitted, more and more professional journalists blindly picked it up and propagated a rumor of the kind that is so often presented as absolute truth on social media.

Regardless of its provenance and even if the thread of its transmission cannot be fully explored, one thing is certain: Certain specific groups on Facebook acted like bullhorns, spreading the fake news that the perpetrators of the vicious attack earlier this month on a stationmaster at the Omonia metro stop in downtown Athens were “young, unaccompanied Algerian migrants.”

It is at least ironic that one of these groups actually calls itself “Recording the Truth.” The Facebook group was created on October 24, 2019, and has more than 60,000 followers. Its mission, it says in its “About” info, is to “fight for the annulment of the pseudo-accord of Prespes and the defense of the Greeks,” referring to the 2018 name deal signed between Athens and Skopje.

On the night of January 14, a day after the attack on the metro official, someone in the group initially posted a short piece about the nationality of the perpetrators and dropped hints that they were Algerian migrants. The response to this first post was lackluster, until the subject was brought up again just 50 minutes later – this time in the form of text commenting on a meme. The writer of the post, which was unsigned, appeared more confident of the perpetrators’ identities in this message: “Why won’t you say that the two guys who beat up the metro employee were illegal Algerian migrants?” the writer asked, in an apparent dig at the mainstream media. “You’d be showing them all day and humiliating them on every channel if they were Greek.”

That post was shared 426 times and got 1,000 likes – numbers that are by no means negligible. Likewise, other pages and users on the same social media platform were sharing the following post: “The youths who attacked the stationmaster were ALGERIAN. Why is the gutter press talking about ‘deniers,’ meaning Greeks who refuse the vaccination?”

The issue here is not that the truth came out when the teenage attackers, two Greek brothers, were identified and arrested, but the fact that so many social media users are ready to accept and propagate anything that is served up to them. They are ready to trust anybody and anything, even a page run anonymously, so long as what they’re reading agrees with their own intolerant view of the world. Even more depressing is the fact that many users continued to share such posts even when the rumor was debunked by the police that made the arrests.