Social media offers opportunities to demonize minorities in Malta

A Muslim teaching assistant was the latest victim of online hate based on false claims when a parent  publicly accused them of removing a crucifix from a classroom wall in Gzira, central Malta.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Social media offers opportunities to demonize minorities in Malta - NewsMavens
Rosary, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

The crucifix was removed, but, as the school later clarified, it was removed by the administration because of a classroom refurbishment.

Experts admit that Malta lacks a coherent system to record and respond to hate crime. In the EU's most densely populated country, the economy is booming, but competition for various resources is fierce, and xenophobes can easily exploit this environment. Foreigners especially have been blamed for a shortage of available apartments, changing the country's values, and stagnant wages, etc.

Social media creates ample opportunities to spread messages against minorities and migrants, as many posts that claim to be first-hand witness testimonies are shared without any critical reflection. 

It is certainly not unique to Malta that various false claims and fake news spread on social media and can reach more people than later clarifications. Yet the habit of the local media to retell what is being spread (by politicians, pressure groups, or on social media) in separate articles, without linking them or embedding the different statements in a wider context makes the media particularly vulnerable to spreading such false accusations -- until there is a police or another authority's counter-statement to retell.

Details from the story:

  • In March, various media swallowed the bait and accused a Bulgarian teenager of murder without evidence.
  • In July, a couple accused a foreign man (we only know this much about him) of attempting to abduct their child -- according to the police, there was no evidence of any wrongdoing, and the couple just wanted revenge because the man took their favourite spot on a beach.
  • A local news website still runs the story of the alleged incidents without any amendments or updates, based on the woman's Facebook post alone.
  • The Malta Union of Teachers said it expected authorities to take action against the parent who spread the false rumour, insulted the teaching assistant and "showed educators in a bad light".
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Zuzanna ZiomeckaGazeta Wyborcza, Europe
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