Social media, such as Facebook, make it easy to share links. That’s not a bad instrument to let others know if you have come across an interesting information you think others should also have access to. And in some cases, this sharing can even help in humanitarian causes.
In many cases however, people share thoughtlessly content that is outraging or sensational, and that singles out a specific person or group of people as being the culprits of an unsupportable action. It is meant to confirm the prejudices many of us have against this specific person or group, and to incite hatred against them. Or to “convince” those who are still in doubt that hating this group (and taking action against them) is justified and even necessary. This is how you start a pogrom, and you can look these days for example in the direction of India, where many people have been murdered recently by an angry mob who has been let loose as a result of (among others) a hate campaign on social media.
False or unproven accusations are a serious matter and should not be taken lightly by anyone. I am not only talking about the legal issues involved in such cases but also the ethical questions. Everyone who is not asking himself, if the information he is planning to share is coming from a trustworthy source, everyone who is sharing information about incidents that blame a certain action on a specific person or group without mentioning clear evidence or sources, is acting unethical and irresponsible, no matter what the legal implications of such a behavior may be.
There is unfortunately a huge number of people out there, who use social media as a weapon to incite hatred, and possibly violence and murder against other people. I am not exaggerating here, and I will give you an example for it. I come across dozens, if not hundreds of such examples on a daily basis, if I just keep scrolling my newsfeed on Facebook for example.
Here is the case I am using for this educational effort:
A small Australian online media outlet with 2 employees that focuses on reporting news from Greece in English language, and that recently has published quite a number of anti-Turkish (not anti-Erdogan) articles, as well as using a militant and militaristic language when it comes to the refugee problem Greece is indeed facing these days, has just published an article about the destruction of a Greek Orthodox Church on Lesbos allegedly by a mob of 500 “Muslim refugees”. You can read the article here, but I am explicitly warning you to be highly critical about what is written there.
This “news” has been shared by quite a number of websites with strong anti-Muslim and anti-migrant bias, usually leaning politically to the extreme right. On another website I am not linking here, the same “news” was published under the headline “Islamic Invaders Ransack and Loot Orthodox Church”. The implication of such a headline is clear: the islanders (and those who recently travelled to the island to stir up violence) are given Carte blanche against the migrants. To kill a migrant, would be obviously in this perverse “logic” just self-defense and not a crime. If you share such articles, you are being complicit in inciting potentially murderous violence against migrants.
What is interesting here is the fact that the article is spreading a half-truth, the most dangerous and efficient form of a lie. Because if you make a little research, you will find a very different version of the story in the news, a version that I will share with you.
More recent news reports by sources that are usually considered as trustworthy, report this on the event mentioned above.
It is interesting to compare the two articles. The older one, shared happily by so many people (since it is obviously in line with their strong hatred of Muslims and migrants), reports that a mob of 500 Muslim migrants stormed and ransacked an Orthodox Church, against the resistance of the local police and a strong presence of islanders. The newer article of a professional media outlet makes it clear, that this part of the news is completely invented. It is not known who is responsible for the destruction, and there is no proof (only suspicions) about who is to blame for it. In the second article, we also learn that the destroyed place was a chapel, not a church. But a chapel was probably too small to host the marauding 500 that the 2 people sitting in Australia were inventing with the intention to make it look more threatening for the reader they want to manipulate.
What also the second article fails to mention is the not unimportant context that in the last years there have been quite a number of Church vandalizations in Greece, and that in most cases there has been no involvement in it neither of migrants nor of Muslims. The second article also doesn’t mention the by now long history of violence that the migrants in Lesbos have been facing over the last years, and of which only the destruction of a memorial for a drowned refugee has made the headlines in international news. But although the second article fails to mention the context and falls therefore short of what I would consider quality journalism, it is at least refraining from hate speech and making up invented claims that are supposed to invite readers to use violence against Muslims and migrants. So very modest we have become, that most of us are already content when an article on such a topic is not a call for violence and murder!
Be therefore very cautious when you read news on controversial topics. Don’t share articles that use hate speech, or that implicitly smear people even against real evidence. Don’t share articles that look “suspicious” and claim something sensational that you cannot corroborate from other, more trusted and reliable sources. Otherwise you are being complicit to a possible (and probable) hate crime.
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