In early June a man was riding a rented bike through a west London neighborhood when he noticed an unlocked Range Rover. He popped the trunk and began stealing items from the car.
Police soon arrived on the scene after being alerted to the crime thanks to CCTVs in the area. An officer knocked the thief off his bike using the door of the police vehicle. Then they arrested him.
That would be the end of the story if it weren't for a YouTube video that helped transform the footage into a piece of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim propaganda.
The arrest video was uploaded to YouTube July 13 with a new, false title, "Migrant Steals from a Car But a Surprise Awaits Him." Metropolitan Police told BuzzFeed News that based on its records, "the man charged was recorded as a UK national." Meaning: he is not a immigrant.
In spite of police confirming there is no evidence the man is a immigrant, the claim and video began spreading to hyperpartisan conservative and anti-Muslim websites. Waynedupree.com referred to the man as a "Muslim Migrant." Madworldnews.com called him a "Sneaky Migrant."
The most shared version of the false story was published by conservativefighters.com and was posted on a related Facebook page with more than 2.4 million fans.
That and the other false stories are generating hateful, violent comments on Facebook. One man expressed regret that the thief's head wasn't crushed by the police van, and referred to immigrants as "primitive animals" who "rob, rape, murder."
Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
Contact Craig Silverman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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