Islamophobic Smear Campaigns

Erin Gallagher
5 min readMay 13, 2017


Muslims are one of the most vilified groups of people on the planet. Islamophobic smear campaigns widely circulated in hyper-partisan right-wing media and boosted by automation have created a climate of fear that stretches across the globe.

Below are 3 examples of smear campaigns against Muslims from 3 different countries: USA, UK and Germany.


The German website HoaxMap debunks false rumors and fake news stories accusing refugees in Europe of crimes ranging from ridiculous to disturbing in nature. The live map features the location of the reported hoax, a description of the false claim and a link to a report debunking the hoax.

Screenshot via Hoaxmap — May 13, 2017

Volunteers working with refugees in Germany were tired of seeing ridiculous rumors go viral on social media despite clear reports that the claims were false so they created a live map. Many of the rumors are so absurd it’s hard to believe they are taken seriously however several dozen fake reports of rapes and sexual assaults have been extremely damaging.

Here’s sample of the absurd false rumors refugees are being accused of in Europe:

  • Mass kidnappings and rape of women and children
  • Supermarket thefts
  • Evicting people from their homes
  • Property damage
  • Looting
  • Eating a stolen horse
  • Eating all the swans in a German lake
  • Throwing a toilet out a window “because a non-believer sat on it”
  • Stealing refrigerators and washing machines
  • Throwing away previous tenant’s furniture “because she was a Christian”
  • Throwing away an almost-new stainless steel sink because pork was previously in it
  • Refusing to sleep on a mattress because a Christian had slept on it
  • Stealing garden furniture from a terrace
  • Getting free vouchers for a brothel
  • Debit card fraud
  • Slaughtering a dog
  • Farmer found an impaled head
  • Severed head and body parts found in trash
  • Stolen sheep
  • Urinating on supermarket shelves
  • Wasting food
  • Attacking women
  • Entering a women’s sauna
  • Raping a girl then cutting off her ears

One of the common rumors besides false accusations of rape is that refugees are being paid outrageous sums of cash by the government. One rumor that made the rounds several times involves a refugee getting hair extensions for religious reasons and then charging the local government €720 (about $802 USD) for the expense.

There are also many fake stories of refugees poaching and killing animals. A bizarre story circulated in October 2015 about refugees who stole, cooked and ate an entire horse.

These are refugees who have escaped ISIS, civil war and the bombs of several governments, arrive in what they think will be a safe place only to become victims of islamophobic conspiracy theories and vicious hate campaigns online. Spreading such malicious rumors creates a climate of fear against refugees and social networks are ideal breeding grounds for this bullshit.

United Kingdom

On December 8, 2016, broadcaster and comedian Mark Steel writing for The Independent published about the village of Torrington in North Devon whose residents were allegedly furious about Syrian refugees moving there. The Daily Fail had reported “Fury as refugees are settled in Devon”, and another paper reported that the refugees “faced anger” from the community.

The press kindly illustrated their complaint by showing a series of photographs of the refugee children, playing basketball, taken with a long-range lens from the bushes. This was a brave assignment, because children playing basketball on a basketball court can be fearsome if they know they’re being watched. Such courage certainly puts these wimps who take close-ups of crocodiles in their place.

The story went on to tell us the refugees have been placed in North Devon “as police fired tear gas into crowds of migrants in Calais.” This shows the risk to North Devon, because the fact that other refugees were being tear-gassed in another country proves refugees all get tear-gassed, as it’s their hobby.

Mark visited the village, no one was raging against refugees in Torrington. The story was completely false. Quite the opposite, local people welcomed them and organized a massive collection of clothes and toys for the Syrian refugees who were settled there. Hundreds of people participated in the collection. Unfortunately 5 national newspapers published the incendiary story about alleged local rage against refugees and the damage was done.


On Dec 10, 2015 The Intercept published, “A Muslim American Veteran Was Widely Smeared With a Fabricated Story About ISIS Charges.”

Right-wing blog “Pajamas Media” published an article on November 24 claiming that Saadiq Long, a Muslim American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was arrested in Turkey for being an ISIS operative. Written by Patrick Poole, a professional anti-Muslim activist and close associate of Frank Gaffney, the article asserted that Long “finds himself and several family members sitting in a Turkish prison — arrested earlier this month near the Turkey-Syria border as members of an ISIS cell.” Its only claimed sources were anonymous: “U.S. and Turkish officials confirmed Long’s arrest to PJ Media, saying that he was arrested along with eight others operating along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Long’s purported arrest as an ISIS operative was then widely cited across the internet by Fox News as well as right-wing and even non-ideological news sites.

The false story started with PJ Media and spread like lightning through the right-wing blogosphere, propagating 9+ pages of Google search of Saadiq’s name.

Screenshot: @3r1nG December 10, 2015

The Intercept article is now the top hit when you search Saadiq’s name but the fake story is still included in the search. PJ Media also published another article “confirming” the story in January 2016. The smear about belonging to ISIS will be included in Mr. Long’s digital shadow for a long time.

The proliferation of anti-Muslim hate in right wing media is in part driven by profit motives. Sensationalized content spreads faster and gets more clicks which generate advertising revenue. Some content creators in right wing media likely dial up the fear-mongering just to get more shares, but it has become a standard editorial policy for many right wing media outlets to only portray Muslims as scary terrorists. Other anti-Islam propaganda is spread using bots and elaborate systems of automated distribution. It’s a very effective method of propaganda and has devastating consequences.




Erin Gallagher

Social media researcher, multimedia artist, former research assistant with the Technology and Social Change Project