A photo of six empty bus seats in Norway prompted a heated debate in a private anti-immigrant Facebook group last week, after the group’s members mistook the empty seats for six women wearing burkas.
As the Washington Post reports, several members of the group — called “Fedrelandet viktigst” or “Fatherland first” — found the image to be representative of an influx of Muslim immigrants that have entered Norway in the past few years. The image began circulating less than two months after the country’s right-wing government recently proposed a law restricting the wearing of burkas and niqabs in schools.
The picture was posted with the comment, “What do people think of this?,” which quickly prompted more than 100 responses. The Post notes that one user commented, “It looks really scary, should be banned. You can never know who is under there. Could be terrorists with weapons,” while others referred to the image as “tragic” and “frightening.”
But of course, the image was actually just empty bus seats, and was posted by a journalist who told the Post he had been curious to see how people would react to “a little practical joke.” Johan Slattavik told the Post, “I laid out the photo to see what happened,” and that he was shocked that he was able to trick so many people. “I ended up having a good laugh,” he said.
However, as the Post points out, the reaction to the image highlights a growing problem of anti-immigrant discrimination across Europe. “I have thought about the differences between legitimate criticism of immigration to Europe and blind racism and xenophobia,” Slattavik told the Post. “I wanted to look into these differences: something I think I have achieved by setting up this practical joke and watching the reactions.”