The phrase “fake news” is everywhere. Reputable news outlets are trying to distance themselves from it and the alt-right, whose domain fake news generally is (no-one really knows why), seeks refuge in fake news sites that tell it that reputable news outlets are lying. It’s a mad world.
But more pervasive than fake news — news that is made up and has no factual basis — are the memes that appear on social media. For those who don’t know, memes are photographs with accompanying words, whose aim is to be spread virally.
They can be amusing or inspirational, sometimes informative, but all too often spreading messages of hate, either against foreigners, migrants or Jews.
For example, one that does the rounds claims Tesco was so afraid of offending Muslims that it banned a Royal British Legion poppy seller. In truth, Muslims sell poppies themselves, no store has ever banned a poppy seller to avoid offence and — the clincher — there’s not even a Tesco in the location given by the meme.
Most memes are either too stupid or too offensive to write about, but one circulating now is a good example of how simplistic and misleading these things can be and, worryingly, how easily people believe them.
The meme concerns two rather unpleasant men.
Rezzas Abdulla, who hates white women, spat at a baby while she was out with her mother in South Shields. A court gave him eight months in prison suspended for 18 months, with rehabilitation and mental health treatment requirements as he is mentally ill.
Kevin Crehan was jailed for 12 months last January for being part of a group that tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque in Bristol. He died in prison in December. He had admitted racially aggravated public order offences.
The meme compares the sentences and makes the point that Abdulla served no days in prison while Crehan, who it merely claims “left bacon sandwiches outside a mosque”, was sent to prison.
Hard cases famously make bad law and these both sound hard, but the meme simplifies the facts to make its case, which is that white males are victimised by lefties and liberals, in a land where a man can’t drop a bacon butty without going to prison because Muslims are taking over.
It omits the fact that Abdulla is mentally ill and that he received a suspended sentence: if he commits another offence, he will go to prison.
Parents may feel anyone who spits at a child should be jailed and it would be hard to disagree, but the court heard the evidence and we did not. The terms of his suspension are that he receives treatment.
Crehan, on the other hand, did not “leave bacon sandwiches outside a mosque” as the meme claims: he admitted he was part of a gang that tied bacon to the door handles of the mosque, to cause offence.
Leaving aside the fact that anyone who goes around tying food products to door handles anywhere is clearly not right, a person who ties bacon to mosque doors is clearly malicious. Any magistrate would treat differently a mentally ill man who’d done something horrible and a man who’d set out to offend and done something horrible.
In a wider context, the meme also seeks to encourage people simplify the courts and undermine the judicial system.
It is the process of the law that’s important, the fact that it treats everyone fairly. This is not the same as being happy with the outcome; you might feel you had a fair hearing but be upset at the sentence.
That the meme doesn’t care about this and just wants to stir up hatred can be seen by the original post, which talks about a “two tier system”, by which it means one for Muslims and one for white working class men, and not in the latter’s favour.
The comments under the original post show that it finds a ready audience: “Whites have no chance against Muslims. They can murder us and I doubt the police will even look into it,” says one.
Another comments: “What gives (the court) the right to say whether we can eat a bacon sandwich outside a mosque – it’s our country we can eat where we want to.”
One warns: “It won’t be long before the British people take our courts away from these judges who fail us”.
The point is that all these made-up memes form people’s opinions. There are many people who will take a passing glance and assume one man got an overly harsh sentence and one was let off, and the accumulation of all these memes will give them a skewed world view.
So please: if one of these things appears on your social media feed, don’t share it. It doesn’t take long to check these things out, but even if you don’t have time for that, not sharing prevents the spreading of a message of hate.