Toronto Canada experienced a frightening van attack April 23, 2018. A man drove a large white van onto the sidewalk and murdered 10 and injured 15.
Tweets were sent out during the attack reporting eye witness accounts:
#BREAKING Witness to truck ramming into pedestrians tells local Toronto TV station that the driver looked wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern.
— Natasha Fatah (@NatashaFatah) April 23, 2018
Fatah’s tweet garnered more than 700 retweets over the next 75 minutes, and another 700 since.
Question: Was this tweet Islamophobic?
A second tweeted by Fatah at 12:19 “Another eye witness to the Yonge and Sheppard incident describes van’s driver as white…”
Question: If the first tweet was Islamophobic, what is the second tweet?
According to the Toronto Star the first tweet “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern” was retweeted more than 1,500 times and liked by more than 2,000 accounts; the second tweet, another eyewitness account of a “white” driver committing a “terror attack” that garnered a paltry 124 shares.”
As frightening as the van attack was at the time of reporting this very fluid event, many articles were written about the tweets and the messengers themselves; including opinions shared by JONATHAN GOLDSBIE on April 24. He wrote under the title “How The Far Right Spun The Toronto Van Attack As Islamic Terrorism.” He shared with the reader the names of the people who retweeted the original tweet referring to some as “white nationalists, severe critic(s) of Islam.”
Attacks on the journalist reached bully proportions.
I contacted him asking him for a definition of alt-right. He declined to comment.
Let’s take a look at another attack in Toronto: what has been called the “Hijab Hoax” attack for a comparison.
From the National Post January 15, 2018
“At 9:15 a.m. last Friday, Noman’s school contacted police to report her claim that, as she walked to school that day with her brother Mohammad Zakariyya, 10, a man assaulted her with scissors, twice a few minutes apart, trying to cut off her hijab.(The man was described as Asian) Less than 20 minutes later, the Toronto Police tweeted an alert. The first news story was posted well before 10 a.m., international interest followed soon after and the school was swarmed with reporters.” Police said they were treating case as a possible hate crime.
The Premier of Ontario tweeted her concern at 12:15 PM
This is a cowardly act of hatred, and it has no place in Ontario. This does not represent who we are. We must stand firm in our support of this young girl who was assaulted simply for wearing a hijab.
From the Prime Minister almost three hours after the police report and tweet:
My heart goes out to Khawlah Noman following this morning’s cowardly attack on her in Toronto. Canada is an open and welcoming country, and incidents like this cannot be tolerated.
12:57 PM – 12 Jan 2018
“Canada is an open and welcoming country and incidents like this cannot be tolerated.”
Question: Were these tweets shared by those on the left?
And then the story was proven false; three days later. And tweets went out again.
Any time there are reports or allegations of hate or intolerance in our city, you will hear me speak out. In this case, Toronto Police have investigated and determined that the events described did not happen.
Chinese Canadians expressed their concern regarding the initial tweet when it was discovered that the story was false.
Replying to @JustinTrudeau
Prime Minister of Canada: a young kid’s lie might be forgiveable, but whoever influenced her shouldn’t be… This is HATE CRIME TO ASIAN CANADIANS. Please bring justice, Justin…
1 reply 7 retweets203 likes
The Prime Minister said he was relieved that the incident hadn’t in fact taken place.
“We have seen an unfortunate pattern of increased hate crimes in past months directed towards religious minorities, particularly towards women,” he said, calling such violence “a warning sign of increased intolerance.”
“We are a country that defends freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and people’s rights to go to school without being fearful or harassed,” he said. “This is fundamental to who we are.”
When the story was proven false, pundits responded, including EVAN BALGORD who focused on the response by the Chinese community to the tweets.
Eye on Hate: “Hijab Hoax” fuels alt-right protests
“The fabricated incident has driven some Chinese-Canadians to make common cause with alt-right stalwarts…
“In the following weeks, a Chinese-Canadian group held demonstrations in Toronto, Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, and Montreal to demand an apology from Justin Trudeau. They say the 11-year-old’s false allegation that she was assaulted by an “Asian” man targeted the Chinese community.
The Chinese-Canadian Alliance, a newly registered nonprofit organization, chartered buses to Ottawa for the demonstration last weekend. Members of Toronto’s anti-Muslim movement posted information about the buses and encouraged people to join the demonstration.”
Take a moment and look at the tweet pattern from this story. The PM’s tweet received 3,065 Retweets and was Liked 13,211 times.
The initial tweet from the Premier of Ontario was tweeted 2990 times and 1,323 people were taking about it.
The Premier’s tweet reporting that the event was fabricated was tweeted 267 times and 159 people were talking about it.
I have highlighted the number of tweets and retweets because of an article I read by Chris Meserole from The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. whose mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level. He decided this event was an example of misinformation spreading on social media.
Focusing only on the van attack he asked
“First, why did the incorrect tweet (Middle Eastern)spread so much faster than the correct one (white)? And second, what can be done to prevent the similar spread of misinformation in the future?”
“Human biases play an important role: Since we’re more likely to react to content that taps into our existing grievances and beliefs, inflammatory tweets will generate quick engagement…this cycle can turn social media into a kind of confirmation bias machine, one perfectly tailored for the spread of misinformation.”
I think we should ask the same question about the Hijab Hoax. Why was the initial tweet, which turned out to be incorrect, retweeted far more often than the follow up tweets?
Could it be that human bias exists on the left, the right and every postion in between?
Let’s look at human bias regarding the Hijab Hoax. What led people to believe the story? Were there previous incidents like this? According to the National Post article there had been a report a few years earlier about a young girl abducted-that also turned out to be false. But other than that, what human bias was at play that one would assume the story to be true? And go viral? One would assume the police would vet the story before a news conference took place. One would tend to trust a police investigation before one would trust eye witness reports during an on-going, fast-moving fluid crisis.
Yet, I found no stories attacking the police for tweeting a totally false story.
There was no analysis about the people who tweeted. Were they from the left, the right?
There were those who called for grace and nuance regarding the Hijab Hoax. I didn’t hear similar sentiments regarding the van attack tweets.
Now let’s take a look at human bias regarding the white van attack in one of the busiest intersections in Toronto Canada, the largest city in the country.
Since 9/11 the West has experienced horrific Islamic terror attacks. From suicide bombs, to van attacks.
According to CNN there have been at least 11 van attacks since 2014 including including: Spain Thursday August 17 2017 when a terrorist ploughed a van into crowds, killing 13 people and injuring more than a hundred, in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas; In Berlin, December 19, 2016 when attacker Anis Amri drove a lorry into a packed Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring more than 60; Nice terror attack July 14 2016; A terrorist in a lorry mowed down revellers who had just finished watching a firework display to mark Bastille Day in France killing 84 people and injuring hundreds of others on the promenade in the seaside town of Nice.
And October 31, 2017 – Eight people are killed and almost a dozen injured when a 29-year-old man in a rented pickup truck drives down a busy bicycle path in New York.
Since 9/11, when 3000 Americans were murdered, an additional 158 Americans have been killed in 53 separate acts of deadly Islamic terror or Islam-related honor killing in the United States
Canada has been spared with only a handful of terror attacks including the shooting at the Parliament buildings.
Why was the Hijab Hoax treated differently from the van attack? It was totally fabricated, increased fears of Islamophobia and cast aspersions on the Chinese community. It took three days to state that it was false.
The tweets from the van attack were corrected quickly.
There were no attacks on the messenger on social media in the Hijab Hoax but the the messenger from the van attack; an attack that took place, that terrorized the country, that tapped our fears of Islamic terrorism was attacked; mercilessly.
From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”