The influx of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern and African migrants to Europe has been followed by a flood of rumors that range from the criminal to the absurd. After noticing that migrants were being maligned by accounts that later proved untrue, two German women decided to chart the debunked rumors.
The result is “Hoax Map,” an interactive feature which pinpoints the locations of fabricated claims against migrants and references sources that discredit the rumors.
“We were seeing more and more rumors about refugees committing crimes or receiving excessive health care, [and] we wanted to create something to counter this trend and maybe give people a tool to check up on stories they have been hearing,” said Karolin Schwarz, an open data consultant who co-founded the feature along with Liz Helm, a software developer.
“The stories seemed to be [orchestrated] by far-right parties and organizations and I wanted to try to find some way to help organize this — maybe find patterns and give people a tool to look up these stories [when] they were being confronted with new ones,” Schwarz told Al Jazeera.
Hoax Map has so far documented more than 240 false allegations against migrants, many of which involve sexual violence. The visualization offers a sense of prevalence to prominently reported stories, such as the spate of groping at New Years’ Eve celebrations in Cologne Germany, which were initially blamed on migrants. New information has since revealed that only three of the 58 people arrested for the attacks were migrants from Syria and Iraq.
Here are a few of the debunked rumors that Hoax Map has compiled.
Buying Luxury Items With Government Stipends
Rumors that migrants are spending stipends they receive from the German government on luxury items such as high-end shoes and coats are untrue, according to Josef Niedermaier, a district administrator in Bavaria. He told a local newspaper that migrants only receive a monthly stipend of 326 euros (about $360) per person — hardly a sum that can afford designer apparel.
Forcing German Residents Out Of Their Homes
Although only about half of their $360 can be used freely (the rest is designated to be spent on food, healthcare, and clothing), rumors have spread that migrants would spend their stipends on housing and drive up rent for local German residents in Bad Tolz, a southern German city. “None of that is true,” Michael Foerst, a district official said. “There is no single case in the district where state or local landlords have evicted a German [in order to take in migrants].”
Living In Elementary Schools
A rumor that an elementary school in Ilmenau, Germany would be used to house migrants is untrue, according to a Facebook post by the town’s mayor. He said that the rumors were tied up with a housing shortage in the area.
Robbing Old Ladies
Although rumors spread that an old woman was knocked down and robbed by migrants in Bad Driburg, a town in Western Germany, that never happened. “A robbery or a similar fact, in the form described in Bad Driburg has not taken place,” Chief Inspector Andreas Hellwig, spokesman for the police in the nearby town of Höxter said.
Urinating On Everything
A rumor that migrants urinated on the shelves of a local supermarket in the town of Bautzen was debunked by a district police chief named Conny Stiehl. “I have sent our people in every supermarket to ask,” he said. “Not a single case has been confirmed.” Similar rumors of migrants urinating on gravestones in the town of Kirchheim were discredited by local police, who said they had no way to know if migrants — “and not arrogant German teenagers from the best home” — were the culprits.