How many men would sign up to be mail-order grooms?

One of the most enduring fake news claims that Iceland will pay foreign men to marry Icelandic women. But underneath the falsehood is a real story that, unfortunately, nobody bothered to tell.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
How many men would sign up to be mail-order grooms? - NewsMavens
Smiling man. Pixabay.

Why this story matters:

In 2016, a short-lived blog called “The Spirit Whispers”, apparently located in Dubai, published a false story about Iceland’s government offering to pay foreign men to marry local women. It soon went viral and prompted Iceland’s institutions to refute the information after receiving repeated inquiries about it. The ministries and embassies weren’t the only ones being spammed:

As it turned out, many male readers were, in fact, interested by the offer. “Over the past week now,” the Icelandic web site The Reykjavík Grapevine reported, “numerous Icelandic women on Facebook have attested to being practically spammed with friend requests from non-Icelandic men that they do not know.”

A quick Google search would have been enough for any news media to learn that the information was false before translating and publishing it. However, two years later, the nonsensical story is still spreading in the Balkans, with headlines such as these:

  • EASY MONEY FOR A GOOD JOB! MARRY AN ICELANDIC WOMAN AND GET 5,000 DOLLARS! They have too many women and lack men, so there’s no one to give them children! THE OFFER STANDS FOR SERBS TOO!  
  • If you’re bored by your women, Iceland is an ideal country for you: The government pays 5,000$ to men who marry women from Iceland 
  • Iceland has a lot of unmarried women: The desperate government offers 10,000 dollars if you marry a girl from that country

Many of these articles are also packed with comments from men seeking more information on how to apply for a “sponsored” marriage. Some make it clear that they’re solely interested in the money, but the comments often include disparaging remarks about women from their own countries.

The lack of journalistic diligence here goes beyond the usual copy/paste laziness, because there IS a real story here and it’s not about whether Iceland pays for “mail-order grooms”. It’s about the fact that so many men are willing to sign up.  

Were men from the Balkan countries among those who wrote requests to Icelandic embassies and spammed Icelandic women on Facebook? And if so, was poverty the main motivation, or some sort of angst against women who surround them? What does all this say about perception of gender roles and relationships? 

The initial story is fake, but there is a real story behind the reaction -- that is, there would be a story if anyone bothered to cover it.

Details from the story:

  • The BHS translation of the story was first published on a website called “RIO travel stories”, the personal travel blog of a Bosnian man named Robert Dacešin, who specializes in digital marketing. It was translated just a day after “Snopes” published a debunking article.
  • Another blogger linked to the debunking of the story on the same day it was published. The "RIO" website owner thanked him for the information and left the article online.
  • Since then, it has had hundreds of “resurrections” on websites and social media. This includes some rather reputable outlets, such as CNN’s regional affiliate“N1”, who also contributed to the “credibility” of the false news story by publishing it on its own website.
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