Facebook is not the place to gather ‘facts’

The atrocities in Paris seem to have divided the social media world into two categories, the rational and the people who believe anything that’s on their screen because it’s “on the internet”.

The atrocities, in the name of terrorism and nothing else, gave the people who believe we should restrict immigration all the ammunition they needed to avoid any serious debate, and many disappeared into the world of lies, rumour and misinformation.

On Facebook, one person defriended me after she shared an Islamophobic story about a supermarket taking alcohol off its shelves, even though the “story” stated at the bottom that the whole tale was made up to test how gullible people were.

The most egregious example was from the US, offering “a word of advice to those folks supporting the Syrian refugees”. Among its claims were:

• investigators have already found that several of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks went there posing as refugees;

• pictures of the mass Syrian exodus reveal most are young men not women and children;

• Dearborn (Michigan) Muslim neighbourhoods are posting signs with “death to Americans”;

• European countries that opened their borders to Muslims now have the highest incidents of violent crime against their citizens, rape, child abductions and molestations;

• the majority of the French population is now Muslim;

• half the population in London is Muslim;

• the #1 name in London for new births is Muhammad;

• Islam teaches not to live in harmony with other cultures or religions, it teaches to get rid of those infidels.

Clearly, most of these claims are utter baloney.

Official United Nations figures show that there is a 51%/49% split between men/women and children coming from Syria. The claim about signs in Dearborn (home to a large number of Arab Americans, many of whose families originally went to work for Mr Ford) is a fabrication.

The majority of the French population is not Muslim or anywhere near and half the population of London is clearly not Muslim (in fact if every Muslim in Britain moved to London, they’d only make up 25% of that city’s population). Muhammad is not the number one name in England or London.

As for other claims: there is as yet no hard evidence that the terrorists came posing as refugees, only what looks like a fake passport, and, even if it’s true, to equate terrorist with regular Muslims is like likening all Christians with the Westboro Baptists.

People who are not familiar with social media, or who deliberately avoid it, may wring their hands at all this nonsense but it is worrying: firstly because when you try and counter it with facts, people – like the woman who defriended me – often disappear and thus only associate with others of similar gullibility.

Secondly because these false claims are read by many people they have a cumulative effect and – as Hitler said –people often believe big lies on the basis that no-one would “have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

The trouble is there is an argument to be had about immigration.

People like the Chronicle’s regular correspondent Terry Barber of Biddulph have a right to express concern and raise the spectre of unfettered immigration.

It is entirely possible that one of the Paris attackers came back into Europe as a refugee, although of course he did not bring his AK47s and explosives with him. There is an argument about restricting migration.

However, this argument should be based on facts and logic, not made-up figures posted on Facebook on the assumption that people are too lazy to check them out.

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