Sometimes it's hard to know truth from fiction. But some of the rumours being spread at the moment are just plain dangerous....
The problem with the internet is that it likes playing Chinese Whispers. A comment on an Instagram post can prompt an entire Tumblr account. A Tumblr account can spawn a Reddit subfeed. The Reddit subfeed triggers a news story. A news story is read by thousands, and taken by all as fact.
Over the last few weeks, the conflict in Syria and the Middle East has seen millions of men, women and children forced to leave their homes and risk their lives in hope of finding safety in Europe. They’re scared, they’re tired, and they’ve watched the country they love – the country they want to return to – be destroyed.
But while donations continue to flood in, and support continues to come from across the world, there’s a worrying trend of rumours that are on the rise too. Encouraging Islamophobia and provoking negative attitudes towards the refugees (who are asking for little more than a safe place to stay), they’re not only false – they’re dangerous, too.
Here are three rumours that need to be debunked immediately:
Rumour: ‘The Islamic State (IS) are sending hundreds of thousands of their soldiers to Europe by infiltrating the refugees.’
FALSE. As it stands, the Islamic State doesn’t even have hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
Blogger Martin Odoni puts it pretty clearly here. ‘Firstly, ISIL is presently fighting a war on at least seven fronts,’ he says. ‘It is not only fighting several campaigns in different parts of Syria, but it is also in Iraq, Iran and Jordan, while also holding a substantial presence in Libya. The highest estimate for the total number of troops fighting for ISIL is around 200,000. Most other estimates suggest fewer than 100,000… For ISIL to send ‘hundreds of thousands’ to Europe would mean displacing their entire forces, and the instantaneous surrender of what they view as ‘The Holy Land’, which is the prize they are fighting over in the first place. While fighting on so many fronts, ISIL simply does not have the soldiers to spare to send to Europe, even in their hundreds, let alone hundreds of thousands.’
Rumour: ‘But there’s a photo of the refugees waving IS flags!‘
STILL FALSE. The photo is from 2012 – long before IS even started using those flags.
According to the Independent, the image which is currently doing the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and a series of separatist, right-wing news sites including the Conservative Post, was actually taken at a rally in Bonn, Germany, three years ago. And while the protesters are waving flags in the image, the Islamic State didn’t actually start using them until much more recently. ‘Those people aren’t necessarily waving the flag in any way connected with Isis,’ writes Andrew Griffin. ‘As many analysts have pointed out, the organisation took on the symbol partly because it was already a well-established icon and had been used by other groups.’
Rumour: ‘They can’t be refugees because they have iphones.’
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FALSE. Fearing for your life isn’t the same as having no money.
Many, many, many of the refugees fleeing Syria used to have great jobs. They had nice houses, and lovely lifestyles. And then the war started and destroyed everything. Suddenly, they found themselves lying awake, listening to bombs falling and wondering if they’d make it through the night alive. Their family members were killed, and they knew they could be next. And when you think of it that way, whether or not they have iphones, or branded t-shirts, or $5000 in dollars strapped to their bodies really doesn’t come into it, does it?