Fake news

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.


  1. tororosoba says

    When BILD retracts a story and even apologises (they did!), so ething must be terribly wrong. By the way, the person at the origin of this rumour is now facing problems with Justce.

  2. multitool says

    I also heard another story about a muslim rape gang in southern Europe maybe over a year ago. I never found out if it was bullshit or not.

    Maybe this new story is just a rehash of that?

  3. says

    Weird. Why invent fake stories of mob sex attacks on New Years Eve 2016/17, when there were real mob sex attacks on New Years Eve 2015/16? (In particular in Cologne, but also reported in other German cities.)

    “On 25 November [2016], it was reported that in 369 of the 509 crime cases, which were sexually motivated, no perpetrators could be identified. The prosecutor’s office could initiate 58 criminal investigations against 83 persons. Only 6 were convicted so far. The highest sentence was 1 year and 9 month due to sexual assault and robbery. 52 of the accused men had to be acquitted due to lack of unanimous identification. The investigators failed to convict more of the perpetrators because the vicinity of the station was “dark and overcrowded” and the CCTV recordings were of “miserable” quality.”

  4. Ares Akritas says

    PZ: “…as neo-Nazis are given greater prominence … they become even more effective at spreading those destructive lies”

    FYI if you didn’t know already: The fascist fucker Yiannopoulos will be on Bill Maher’s show (I know, I know, you’re not surprised). Something about free speech implying giving a yuuuge megaphone to incoherent racists, sexists, nazis and other 20th century cultural flotsam.

  5. Zeppelin says

    It seems like the more respectable media did their job this time around, at least, and didn’t breathlessly report on the story before any actual investigation had been done? First I heard about it was in the reports of it being debunked. BILD doesn’t count, they’ll print any unsubstantiated rumour they deem sufficiently interesting or shocking.

    And of course the Cologne assault story was pernicious in its own way, because it wouldn’t even have been news — nevermind international news — if the assaults (which were mostly used systematically as distraction while others pickpocketed the victims, iirc) had been perpetrated by Germans, as happens at any large crowd event where people get drunk. Hell, even in this case most of the victims only came forward once the story blew up and they realised they had a shot at actually being taken seriously for a change.
    When the sexual harrassment is coming from brown people, suddenly it goes from a feminist niche concern, from women being too touchy (or being accused of making it up outright), from politically correct Gutmenschen whining, to a grave threat that warrants massive profiling and discrimination in protection of Our Women.

  6. lanir says

    Sounds like time to shorten alt-right to a more fitting alt-r. Because they seem to like living in an alternate reality, or at least pretending really hard. They also seem to take the weirdest random nonsense on faith (this story is no more bizarre than the ugly fantasy of skin color or gender affecting intelligence). So the pronunciation fits as well.

  7. davidrichardson says

    One nice bit of news from my home town, Kalmar, though. A bunch of alt-right thugs started marching through the middle of town on a Saturday night “to protect Swedish women”. They said they were part of the “Soldiers of Odin” (I wonder where they got that from!). Now a group of women have got together as “The Mothers of Odin”. They walk through the centre of town in the middle of the night in bright-coloured clothes, some wearing the same type of ‘pussy hats’ the marchers in Washington wore. Their message is specifically that they don’t need or want a bunch of male thugs in hoodies speaking for them or pretending to ‘protect’ them and if there’s any trouble (which there isn’t), the police can deal with it.

  8. says

    Soldiers of Odin is getting around. Several groups using that name have begun operating in Canada. After the Quebec City mosque shooting I heard there’s a chapter in Quebec, which I find blackly amusing given how Catholic Quebec used to be.