Internet trolling is just getting to be too easy these days. Case in point, the latest example of idiotic group mentality that occurred when an anti-immigration group mistook a photo of empty bus seats for Muslims wearing burqas. The photo which popped up on the Norwegian Facebook group Fedrelandet viktigst, or “Fatherland first,” had the caption “What do people think of this?”
Hook, line and sinker. People instantly took the bait and all the typical xenophobic reactions followed. “This looks really scary,” “terrifying” and “disgusting,” wrote the commentators. While some people actually took a second to look at the photo and realize it was only empty seats, others jumped right on the brainless bandwagon, writing comments like “Ghastly. This should never happen,” and “get them out of our country.”
In total, the photo provided enough outrage for the man behind the prank, Johan Slåttavik, to publish 23 pages of comments. Slåttavik, who has described himself as “Norway’s worst web troll and proud of it” told the press he had the idea after following the group for several months and wanted to conduct a social experiment.
The purpose, Slåttavik explained, was to “highlight the difference between legitimate criticism of immigration and blind racism.” The photo of the bus seats provided the perfect catalyst to “see how people’s perceptions of an image are influenced by how others around them react,” Slåttavik said. “I ended up having a good laugh,” he added.
The post which went viral in the country after it was shared perfectly highlights just how quickly people can form a mob mentality mindset – only seeing what they want to see.
Sindre Beyer, a former Labour party MP who shared the post, said “I’m shocked at how much hate and fake news is spread [on the Fedrelandet viktigst page]. So much hatred against empty bus seats certainly shows that prejudice wins out over wisdom.”
A recent study conducted in collaboration with political scientists from Denmark’s Aarhus University and Temple University, linked a fear of immigrants to a hypersensitive behavioral immune system defense. In a similar way to how humans avoid bodily fluids or rotting food to avoid infection, this part of our immune system can cause some people to misinterpret almost anything different as a potential bodily threat.
“The behavioral immune system functions according to a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach,” one of the study’s researchers, Michael Bang Petersen from Aarhus explained. “The fear comes from deeply ingrained unconscious systems that we can’t control.”
Thousands of Muslim immigrants have moved to Norway in recent years to escape war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa, leading to culture clashes.
Fear of terrorists attack has led conservative politicians in the country to propose bans on certain types of Muslim garb, such as burqas and niqabs. Conservative groups seek to restrict Muslims in Norway from wearing such clothing in schools, ranging from kindergartens to universities. Per Sandberg, then acting immigration and integration minister and a member of Norway’s “conservative-liberal” party, said during a press meeting that face-covering garments “do not belong in Norwegian schools,” adding that “the ability to communicate is a basic value.”
If the law passes, Norway will be the latest European country along with Belgium, Bulgaria, German state of Bavaria, the Netherlands and France to ban wearing full-face veils in certain public places.