How to form a lynch mob using Facebook

February 18, 2017

In Melton, an outer-western suburb of Melbourne, Shane Gillard, a man with links to the far-right group Soldiers of Odin, used Facebook to blame “Sudanese thugs” for a carjacking on February 9.

However, as police reports of the incident surfaced, the truth emerged: no Sudanese immigrants were involved, but two men had a violent altercation in a carpark before the offender, “of Caucasian appearance”, stole the other's car.

Prior to this report, Gillard’s fabricated version of events blaming Sudanese immigrants was shared more than 3000 times on Facebook.

“Time to start arming yourselves people as you or a loved one could be next!!!” the post said.

An elaborate account of a fantasy brawl between the supposed victim and the imaginary car-stealing assailants ended with the call: “We can take this into our own hands and take these thugs off the streets ourselves in groups” and an appeal to the Prime Minister to "start deporting the families of these people before you have riots on the streets".

The fictional story circulated widely, and was shared on a local community Facebook page and discussed in various forums, with many racists expressing support for Gillard’s sentiments, while others challenged the unlikely story and lack of corroborating evidence.

On Gillard's own wall, his daughter Krysty Gillard wrote “Yes I feel your anger Dad …” before advertising the Soldiers of Odin Facebook page of which she is an editor. Soldiers of Odin is a small far-right group who organise intimidating public “street patrols” and take their name from similar fascist groups in Europe and elsewhere.

The Crime Watch Melton Facebook page posted an account of the actual incident, explaining “We had a number of people blaming this on our Sudanese community, including a private message of relaying a screen shot from a Facebook user Shane Gillard. A look into Shane’s background told us he is a One Nation member and seems to focus his posts on Muslims and ‘black c***s’.”

While the story obviously hit a chord with many racists, a few later expressed their regret at sharing it. Some comments under the Crime Watch post included “Shared his post, seems I was caught out” and “I, too was sucked into thinking that this particular incident was caused by Sudonese fellaz”.

Incitement to violence can have frightening consequences. Melbourne far-right activist Phillip Galea is awaiting trial, accused of planning to bomb the offices of the Socialist Alliance after being found in possession of a large quantity of mercury, which is used to make bombs.

A man with white-supremacist, Nazi views was arrested in Sydney on firearms charges, reportedly planning a mass shooting at a shopping centre. These individuals were connected, in person or online, to the web of far-right conspiracy theories and racist propaganda.

The extent that Gillard’s racist lies were believed and circulated despite lacking of any corroborating evidence, reflects not only the strong racist undercurrent in Australian society but months of vilification of Sudanese youth by Victorian media, police and politicians.

According to various media, police and politicians, there is a “crime wave” by Sudanese youth in Melbourne. African-Australians convicted of crime are being targeted for deportation. The police union has demanded that this be extended to include minors. However, crime statistics show that this crime wave is as fictitious as Gillard’s Facebook post.

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