A news item has been making rounds on the interwebz. This article follows boilerplate conventions of journalism: facts are attributed to official sources, it uses the word “alleged” when referring to the accused, and it is written in the language of reporting. The website where the news is published is sleek and snippets of knowledge produced by it are regarded as facts by many who read them. They are widely shared across social media and considered by many an objective account of what (allegedly) happened.
It has never been a better time to be a journalist.
And as seems to be the case with many truths on the internet nowadays, I was rolling on the floor today when I read this one. Really. Even if I tried, I could not even make something like this up myself. Reality has now ever-so-youthfully and permanently outpaced my geriatric imagination. The article starts with the shocking exposé headline:
REPORT: Locals Fled Pool After Migrants Masturbated Into Jacuzzi, Defecated Into Kid’s Pool, Invaded Girls Changing Rooms
It then continues to explain in detail what allegedly happened in this small town in Germany:
A German swimming bath has banned migrants from entering the premises after a group of men went on an obscene rampage, laughing in the faces of pool staff when challenged about their grotesque behaviour.
A group of migrant men and women were caught on security camera at the Johannisbad baths in Zwickau, Saxony engaging in unacceptable behaviour, including masturbating into the jacuzzi. In separate incidents other groups of migrants were caught “contaminating” the children’t training pool by “emptying their bowels in the water”, and sexually assaulting other bathers, reports Bild
A scene straight out of a horror story flashes across our eyes. Grotesque. Unacceptable behaviour. Poop everywhere. Groups of migrants without a face. A repeat story of this tragedy takes place across Europe: what we could call here the Great Battle to Save the European Swimming Pool from the Barbarian Invasion. And the narrative is the same every time.
Innocent natives are going for a swim like in the good old days. They are ambushed by mobs of immigrants who forcefully invade their heterotopic spaces of cleanliness to (mostly but not exclusively) engage in the following acts of existential terrorism:
- They stare at the women in perverse manner;
- They make white heterosexual men uncomfortable in the sauna;
- They contaminate the waters through masturbation and taking occasional shits into it;
- And they abuse children whenever they can.
And what is even worse in all this is that — when politely told by the well-meaning staff that it is not really a good idea to jerk off or shit into the jacuzzi while taking selfies of the process — these marauding lunatics simply jeer and laugh at our attempts to civilise them:
In his report, the authenticity of which has since been confirmed by the city administration Mr. Kallweit wrote the shocking words:
“An asylum seeker has masturbated in the hot tub and ejaculated into the basin. This is also recorded on the surveillance camera”. He wrote that the group desecrating the jacuzzi, having been thrown out by the lifeguards later returned took “selfies” of themselves while they were in the tub, “jeering” the whole time.
Writing of another pool under his jurisdiction in the down of Zwickau, the town employee continued to say a group of “young unaccompanied women and children” used the children’s training pool, as none of the party could swim. He wrote, in classic civil servants language they “contaminated the pool by getting rid of the contents of their intestines. Native people immediately left the pool.
Even abstract objects are not safe from these attacks. There are great frustrations among the native population, the article concludes, because of of these “assaults on the pool” as well as the “young men” trying to “forcibly penetrate” the female changing room.
The truth is out there!
WHAT TRUTH IS OUT THERE?
My research is increasingly interested in three perspectives of how such knowledge, truth, is produced online around the refugee crisis:
- Who is sharing what? First of all, who is it that links to these snippets of knowledge (such as the article about the Immigrant Who Masturbated into the Bathtub)? What kinds of networks are formed between different users and their information sources, and how does the online ecology of information contribute to the diffusion of such knowledges?
- How are different kinds of knowledge commented on? Secondly, how do different users comment on the different knowledges produced (such as the stories of Rampading Hoardes of Immigrants Pooping Into Public Pools)? Moreover, given the diffusion of different knowledge sources, how are different kinds of information sources (mainstream, alternative etc) and events and topics commented on as authoritative sources of knowledge (or rejected as not) and what kinds of sentiment is accompanying these stories (link polarity, emotive words etc)?
- How does different kinds of knowledge disseminate online? And finally, how do different news items — such as the stories about Raping Immigrant Hiding Clandestinely in the Wading Pool to Grope Your Daughter — spread online and how are especially different kinds of half-news, rumours and unverified stories given visibility by social media dynamics (information cascades, epidemic spread etc)?
There are some cool “big data” methods that could scale this analysis up to larger communities that I am exploring now. The idea here is that by understanding the different kinds of communicative relationships, we are both able to find out how different “extremist” groups try to exploit the anger and frustration by using a new kind of propaganda characteristics of social media as well as to see which communities have become intractable insofar that any kind of communication with them is very difficult. As Coleman (2003) writes:
Over time, a variety of cognitive, moral, and behavioral processes combine to bring protracted conflicts to a level of high intensity and perceived intractability. They include such cognitive processes as stereotyping, ethnocentrism, selective perception (such as the discovery of confirming evidence), self-fulling prophecies (when negative attitudes and perceptions impact the other’s behavior), and cognitive rigidity. These can fuel processes of deindividuation and dehumanization of the enemy, leading to moral disengagement and moral exclusion: that is, the development of rigid moral boundaries between groups rthat exclude out-group members from typical standards of moral treatment. This can result in a variety of antagonistic behaviours such as escalatory spirals (where each aggressive behaviour is met with a more aggressive response), autistic hostilities (cessation of direct communication), and violence (26).”
But all this has nothing to do with news, right?
Coleman, P.T. (2003) ‘Characteristics of Protracted, Intractable Conflict: Toward the Development of Metaframework-1’, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 9:1: 1–37.