By Andrea Visentin, 21th July 2021
Fake news in our digital age is an ever increasing problem. In a survey carried out in 2018 across all the European Union, 37% of respondents said that they encountered fake news “every day or almost every day”, while only 17% “seldom or never”. An other study of 2018 found that fake news spread way faster than facts: false news stories were 70% more likely to be re-tweeted than true stories. The same study found that the quantity of fake news spikes during times of national distress, and this explains the surge of fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Political fake news is the most common type of fake news, and migration is always a hot topic to spread disinformation. Migrants cannot defend themselves from disinformation, and they often end up being the scapegoat for anything that happens in the country. Far-right parties all over the world don’t hesitate when it comes to spreading fake news on migration. And that’s why there’s so much of it on the Internet. Here I gathered just a few examples.
Save our women from the black men!
During the summer of 2019, Spanish social media was hit by a storm of fake news regarding the story of a 14-years-old girl who was gang-raped in Manresa, Catalonia. Far-right activists shared on Facebook a collage of picture showing the North African minors that had committed the abuse, exposing the hypocrisy of the left and of the feminists, who were ignoring the story because the criminals were migrants.
As you can expect, the reality is very different. Out of the 7 people who were on trial for the rape, three of them were Spanish, three were Cuban and the last one was Argentine. And none of them was a minor. Furthermore, the teenagers depicted in the Facebook collage were in fact young people who had died trying to get to the Canary Islands from Morocco. Last but not least, feminist activists had manifested in favour of the victim of the Manresa rape, so it is not true that they were ignoring the case.
In a tweet related to this case and others, Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right party Vox, has claimed that 69% of group assaults are committed by foreigners. This number is also false, as there are no official statistics in Spain identifying sexual-violence perpetrators by nationality.
Migrant and influencer
In 2015, an Instagram account captured global mediatic attention. It was the account of a young Senegalese man, named Abdou Diouf, documenting his journey from Dakar to Spain.
The man seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the hashtag system of the platform, and managed to quickly gather 8 000 followers. A lot of his followers were really supportive of his adventure, but of course there were also haters: “FED UP WITH ALL YOU MILLIONS OF PEOPLE TRYING TO GET HERE, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU HERE AND NO WORK, NO DREAM”, was one of the comments.
After a dangerous trip in a small boat during the night, he finally managed to reach Spain.
Of course, the account turned out to be fake. In particular, it was a marketing campaign for a photography festival. In this specific case, the account was set up to gather attention on the issue of illegal migrants, but it wasn’t meant to be used against migration and migrants. Still, I wanted to include it on this list because it shows how polarizing this issue can be, and how easy it is to create misinformation and disinformation in out time.
Canada wants you!
In 2019, the website CBTV published an article titled “Canada’s Prime Minister begs Nigeria President for one million immigrants“, claiming that Canada had created a new employment and migration deal with Nigeria, in which Prime Minister Trudeau asked for one million new immigrants to be sent from Nigeria. The website also published several other identical articles, but referring to the Philippines, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Pakistan, Ghana and Uganda.
Of course, each one of these articles is completely fabricated, but they nonetheless circulated a lot in social media, especially in Africa. These kind of articles usually target the potential migrants that want to emigrate, in this case to Canada, with the intent of profiting from the high number of shares and visits to the website. In addition to being a shady business model, these articles bring with them deeper political problems: they contribute to increasing the tension between the native population and the migrant population, and might even spark protests if not kept under control.
Those migrants are paid better than me to do nothing all day!
One of the most long-lasting fake news in Italy, dating back to 2014, is that migrants are paid 35€ a day when they are welcomed in an asylum centre. Often this lie is paired with the claim that they are also living in 5-star hotels. Needless to say, both of these claims are false.
35€ a day is the average cost to maintain a migrant in Italy, but this doesn’t mean that every single migrant receives 35€ a day: this money goes to the local authorities, groups, and organizations that take care of them, and it is used to pay for the maintenance costs of running an asylum camp. Migrants only get 2,5€ a day as pocket money.
As for the 5-star hotels, it is true that when there is no more space for migrants in reception centres, they are sent to local hotels and pension. But these are not even close to being luxurious accommodations, and they are just a temporary solution.
However, being fact-checked has never stopped the far-right, and these kind of claims regularly resurface every time there is even the slightest migration crisis.
They are bringing Ebola with them!
On June 10th 2019, the US-based news website Conservative Daily Post published an article titled “Disease-Ridden Congolese Migrants Dumped in San Antonio“, claiming that “Hundreds of Congolese migrants, with who knows what sorts of diseases given that the nation is chock full of Ebola, were unexpectedly dumped in San Antonio.”
The fact-checking website PolitiFact quickly debunked this claim. It is true that at that time Congolese migrants were coming to San Antonio, but there was no reason to believe that they were bringing Ebola with them, or any other infectious disease. And in fact, no case of Ebola was registered.
This same narrative has been used in Italy during the COVID pandemic: far-right activists were outraged because “good Italian people” were confined in their homes while migrants “full of COVID” could keep landing in Italy without any problem.
Attributing false characteristics to a certain group of people has always been a useful tactic for the far right, and it is no surprise that it is still being used. Saying that a certain minority is spreading a disease helps to build a strong sense of “us” against “them”, even when “they” are not at all at fault.
These 5 cases are only a small drop in the ocean of fake news targeting migrants, asylum seekers, and migration in general. It is a problem that the international community has to fight, if we want to build a peaceful world in which everyone can feel at home even outside of their own home. Unfortunately, it is not an easy task, as fake news nowadays are easier to spread thanks to social media. However, it is a task that we have to undertake, if we ever want to get rid of prejudices, racism and intolerance.