Here’s a story that got a lot of play in Germany:
On Feb. 6, Germany’s most-read newspaper reported that dozens of Arab men, presumed to be refugees, had rampaged through the city of Frankfurt on New Year’s Eve. The men were said to have sexually assaulted women as they went through the streets; the newspaper dubbed them the Fressgass “sex mob,” referring to an upmarket shopping street in the city.
Oh no! See, you just can’t trust those dirty refugees. It’s not bigotry if it’s true, right?
Except…we ought to always question stories like that that feed into stereotypes and biases, biases that are almost entirely unjustified.
Except…we ought to take note that crimes committed by white men are never reported as rampages committed by their race or gender. Funny, that. It creates a twisted perspective.
Except…this story was totally false.
Frankfurt police were taken aback by the article — they had not heard of any large-scale assaults taking place in the area on New Year’s Eve — but a number of news outlets published aggregated versions of the story, spreading it further.
When local newspapers tried to report more on the story, local business owners said they had never seen any kind of “sex mob” or mass sexual assault on New Year’s Eve. “It was absolutely peaceful,” one staff member at a Fressgass bar not far from Mai’s establishment told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
On Tuesday, police released a damning statement on the incident that suggested the reports published in Bild were without foundation. “The interrogations of the witnesses, guests, and staff have created considerable doubts about the portrayal of events,” the statement read, adding that “a person allegedly affected by the actions was not in the city at all when the crime occurred.”
There are people actively spreading lies to promote hatred and conflict, and these are the worst kinds of people: racists, bigots, neo-Nazis, the so-called “alt-right”. There are also so-called journalists who happily promote these kinds of lies without basic checking of the facts, because it sells newspapers and ads. And as neo-Nazis are given greater prominence (hey, we’ve got a crop of them running the USA!), they become even more effective at spreading those destructive lies. Und so weiter.
It’s going to get worse. Self-promoting death spirals always do.