Calling Bullshit on the Anti-Refugee Memes Flooding the Internet
Stay woke, people.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK
A couple of days ago the BBC published a story debunking a photo which claimed to show a member of ISIS posing as a refugee in Europe. The man shown in the image—shared tens of thousands of times—was not an IS militant but a former commander in the Free Syrian Army who had been profiled by the Associated Press only last month.
There are countless memes like this one making the rounds on social media. A lot of the people sharing them are probably just gullible olds, but presumably at the heart of these images are some racist jerks cranking up the meme generators and knowingly filling the internet with lies.
Keen to know how many more memes have been faked, cropped, or taken out of context by those who want refugees kept outside of Europe, I spent yesterday evening wading through the horror of far-right Facebook. Here's what I found:
REFUGEES ARE IN FACT HULKING BODYBUILDERS
A particularly bizarre trope is that refugees are not victims of war but are in fact all bodybuilders who are going to come to the UK and stomp around British towns inflicting their severe roid-rage on everyone. They should instead take those bulging biceps and punch Assad's barrel-bombs out of the sky.
Photographs like the ones above are being circulated on a number of far-right Facebook pages including the EDL (shared over 3,000 times), South East Alliance (a far-right EDL splinter-group), and Pegida UK.
The pictures have, unsurprisingly, been taken out of context. A quick reverse image search on the photos above and below shows they were taken back in 2013 by a photographer in Christmas Island off the coast of Australia. This becomes all the more clear in the picture below:
See that yellow writing on the blue uniform? It says Australian Customs and Border Protection.
REFUGEES ARE COWARDLY MEN WHO HAVE LEFT THEIR WOMEN AND CHILDREN BEHIND
Quite a few of the memes I found try to dehumanize refugees in Europe by claiming they are all cowardly men who have left behind women and children in war zones. The photo above, for example, shows a bunch of men being welcomed in Germany, after arriving last week on special trains in Munich. The first place I found the original photo—taken by a Reuters journalist—was on the CBC News website, on top of a video shot from the same station in Munich.
Male refugees are obviously no less deserving than anyone else, but keen to get a sense of who else was in the crowd I decided to click and watch the full video. Here are some screen-grabs I took that surprisingly didn't make it into the meme:
REALLY OBVIOUSLY FAKE PHOTOS
I found the above image posted on the Facebook page of Pegida UK, the British offshoot of an Islamophobic street-based protest movement, which first formed in Germany last year. It accompanies an invitation to protest outside Downing Street on the 19th of this month to oppose Britain being given to "complete strangers." You might have thought someone who really hates refugees would have a good idea of where they're actually coming from, but apparently not. The ship photographed—with comments calling for it to be "torpedoed"—is actually from 1991 and shows several thousand Albanians leaving for Italy.
ISIS IS INVADING RIGHT NOW
Here's one from Britain First, the far-right group with an influential web presence and memes that your grandma is highly likely to share on Facebook. According to the group, the image above shows 2000-odd ISIS fighters heading, as we speak, to your charming little town.
In fact another quick reverse image search reveals the photo was taken back in 2013 by a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and shows displaced Syrians crossing the Tigris River into Iraq.
IMMIGRANTS ARE HAVING A GREAT TIME IN PLUSH HOTELS
Last month, after the number of refugees trying to reach Britain from Calais rose sharply, a bunch of reports surfaced in the media about reception centers becoming full and refugees that had made it over temporarily staying in British hotels.
The thought of asylum seekers staying in two star B&Bs in Wigan was too much to handle for some racists who believe people fleeing Syria and Eritrea should be punished for the government's poor track record on homeless veterans. A few weeks ago one far-right group called the Pie and Mash Squad— a bunch of football hooligans linked to the EDL—decided to take action by encouraging its Facebook followers to leave fake reviews on TripAdvisor slandering the refugees and criticizing the hotels for having them.
Reviews quickly began appearing online. I found one user called Natalie S who had written two posts on the same day for two different hotels: one in Stockport and one in Cardiff, both extremely hostile to the refugees staying there.
Was Natalie S a follower of the Pie & Mash Squad? Or was she a concerned British hotel guest who had recently stayed in both Stockport and Cardiff? It's hard to prove for sure but the Daily Mail certainly seemed convinced.
REFUGEES ARE TERRORISTS
Image via the EDL Facebook page
The BBC may have debunked the viral photo mentioned at the top of this post, but you can expect to see plenty more. I found this image posted on the EDL website.
Let's put aside any doubts about whether that's even the same guy from left to right. Given the EDL's usual schtick, the clear implication is that this guy is a jihadi terrorist. However, there's no real evidence to say who he was fighting with when this photograph was taken. If anything, his uniform suggests that he could be a former fighter for the YPG—a Kurdish, non-Islamist group battling ISIS in Syria. It's not cut and dry, but if anything ISIS fighters might be more likely to wear black and cover their faces.
The image was also tweeted out by the editor-in-chief of a Lebanese radio station—Radio Sawt Beirut International—who claimed he was a Kurdish militant.
In short, stay woke, people.