The Mail on Sunday apologised for and corrected a story that blamed “Muslim gangs” for an attack on immigration enforcement vans in east London after a complaint to press regulator Ipso.
Miqdaad Versi, who is assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, complained in a personal capacity to Ipso after receiving a non-satisfactory response from the newspaper.
In July, the newspaper published the story with the headline “Welcome to east London: Muslim gang slashes tyres of immigration-raid van before officers showered with eggs from high rise”.
It linked Muslims with criminality in the same week David Cameron had called on the Muslim communities to support the “British way of life” and combat extremism.
The evidence? In the original story, it quoted an unnamed witness who claimed that, “I think they were local Muslim hoodies just doing a prank, but it’s not funny. It’s the sort of thing that will cause this area problems now”.
Following a complaint to Ipso, the Mail on Sunday agreed to rewrite the story to remove the references to Muslims and publish a correction both in print and online.
The correction said: “An article on July 26 said a gang of Muslim youths was responsible for damaging Home Office Immigration Enforcement vehicles in Shadwell, East London, in the week the Prime Minister appealed to Muslims to help combat extremism. Muslim readers have asked to point out that the youths’ religion was unclear and, in any case, irrelevant to the story. We apologise for any offence caused”.
One removed reference included that ‘more than half the population of Shadwell is Muslim, according to the 2011 census’. An irrelevant statistic that plays on deeper anxieties towards Muslim communities.
The original story proved a viral hit – achieving more than 15,000 online shares. Anti-Muslim hate sites, including Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugged were quick to republish it. Spencer did acknowledge the Mail on Sunday’s correction with a single sentence.
‘Counter-jihadists’ and the far-right insulate their echo chambers with such stories. In spite of the corrections, these groups already believe the worst about Muslims and lazy journalism acts as confirmation bias.
Take, for example, how supporters of the English Defence League reacted, ‘Fickin dirty Muslim nonses should all be shot at birth and fed to the pigs!’ ‘Just kick the muslim scumbags out , they will NEVER live in peace in this country EVER !’ ‘One word. HITLER. None of this would of happened. If we had stayed as an island’. If anything, the extreme nature of the comments are the blunt end of insecurities around Muslims.
The comments raises an interesting question: why would an individual post them? It could reflect how people navigate the internet. John Suler’s influential ‘Online Disinhibition Effect’ breaks down internet behaviour into six factors.
One factors details how an individual compartmentalises their identities into ‘online’ and ‘real world’ personas. Online behaviour therefore feels inconsequential. Some may never act on these comments offline. Others blur the lines of incitement.
Nor will the corrected reality of the story achieve the same viral success online – and that remains a bigger problem as the total online shares total just 29.