Anatomy Of A Fake News Story: How A Muslim Politician Became A Facebook Villain
No, Anne Aly did not refuse to lay a wreath commemorating fallen soldiers.
Did you hear the one about how Anne Aly, Australia's first female Muslim federal MP, refused to lay a wreath at a recent Anzac Day service?
If you're a traveller in right wing Australian Facebook circles, there's a fair chance you did. From the Kim Vuga Love Australia Or Leave Party page to the Bolt Report Supporters group, rumours of Aly's "disrespect" have been circling for a few days.
The only problem is, it's just not true.
The rumour appears to have kicked off at around 8:30pm on Anzac Day – which marks the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand's first major battle in WWI – when it was posted to the Kim Vuga Love Australia or Leave Party page.
The "must read" story was posted by Vuga, the founder and president of the Love Australia or Leave Party and posed the question: "What the hell are they doing in our country?" You can guess who "they" refers to.
The story came to Vuga from "Gary", a regular commenter on the page who apparently sent it to her via direct message. It claimed that "Gary" was at the Wanneroo RSL dawn service, north of Perth in Western Australia.
"Everything went very well until the Wreath laying ceremony when the guy announcing the people laying Wreaths said the Local Member Anne Ally would not be presenting the Wreath for the local government," the post said.
"What a bitch."
A few hours later Vuga's post was picked up by the "Fair Suck Of The Sav, Mate" Facebook page, where Aly's "failure" to lay a wreath had now become a "refusal".
That post was shared more than 450 times by the page's 49,000 followers, and from there it took off, bouncing around the right wing Facebook echo chamber, whipping conservatives into a fevered frenzy about the Muslim MP who disrespected our Diggers.
Here's what really happened:
Aly's WA electorate of Cowan has two dawn services – one at Wanneroo and one at Ballajura – and because the sun only rises once a day, she can only attend one.
Last year it was Wanneroo, so this year she attended the Ballajura ceremony and sent a wreath to Wanneroo, where state MP Sabine Winton laid it on her behalf.
Aly's been to three Anzac ceremonies this week, and she'll attend three more before the week is out.
But still, for the past two days Aly has been fending off attacks on her Facebook page.
Aly, who was a counter terror and deradicalisation expert before entering parliament, says the claims are offensive and distracting.
"I have a strong relationship with the RSL," she told BuzzFeed News. "I take a lot of pride in it. I work a lot with victims of terror and with first responders, with people who have sacrificed. I have a lot of respect for our service men and women."
The news has now seeped into the mainstream. Aly says she's heard it being reported on some local talkback stations.
"It’s absolutely disgusting that the very people who are falsely claiming outrage are the same people who are disrespecting Anzac day for their own agenda," she said.
"I don’t look at my life through the lens of my religious identity. I don’t look at everything only through the lens of Islam. But people look at me only through that lens and can’t see me as anything else."
When contacted by BuzzFeed News Kim Vuga was unrepentant about any role she played in the spreading of a false rumour.
She said she had never claimed that Aly had "refused" to lay a wreath, only that she had failed to lay one, and said she trusted her friend "Gary" to tell the truth.
“I only shared what I was given," she told BuzzFeed News.
When asked why she hadn't checked her facts before posting, she said that that was the job of journalists, and perhaps BuzzFeed News would be better off investigating the recent controversy surrounding Muslim writer and TV host Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Vuga hasn't yet passed on Gary's details to us, but if she does, we'll update this post.
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