Violence and anti-migrant misinformation following Dublin primary school attack

Violence and anti-migrant misinformation following Dublin primary school attack

By: sam doak&
November 28 2023

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Violence and anti-migrant misinformation following Dublin primary school attack

A bus burns during a demonstration following a suspected stabbing that left few children injured in Dublin, Ireland, November 23, 2023. (Source: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

On November 23, at 1.40 p.m., three young children and a care assistant were wounded in a knife attack outside a primary school on Parnell Square East, central Dublin. As of November 26, a five-year-old girl remains in critical condition.

While the Gardaí (Irish police) were initially hesitant to release details, including the nationality of the alleged perpetrator, the right-wing publication Gript reported that authorities believed him to be of Algerian origin, citing unnamed official sources and providing no corroborating evidence. Subsequent reporting by the Irish Times suggests the suspect is “understood to be a naturalized Irish citizen” who has resided in Ireland for 20 years.

While media outlets, including Logically Facts, were unable to verify personal details, Gript’s claim that a migrant was responsible elicited a swift and violent backlash from Ireland’s far-right. Ultimately, this culminated in an estimated 500 people rioting in central Dublin, resulting in extensive damage to emergency service vehicles, public transport, and businesses.

Misinformation and narratives on social media before the riot

As is often the case in incidents involving scenes of mass disorder, events appear to have been fuelled in part by the circulation of false and otherwise harmful narratives on social media. Unsurprisingly, in this instance, many such narratives centered around migrants and their presence in Dublin. Examples reviewed by Logically Facts included multiple TikTok users falsely claiming an immigration center in Finglas – a suburb of Dublin – was set alight.

A particularly inflammatory claim that circulated widely was that a second school had been attacked in Ballymun, a suburb located on the northern edge of Dublin. Despite this circulating widely, outlets – including The Journal – determined this did not occur. 

In a differing vein, a significant volume of misinformation reviewed by Logically Facts concerns the actions of officials and the media. Such content includes misattributed videos of military vehicles, which were not deployed during the riots at any point. The ungrounded accusation that Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, instructed the Gardaí to refrain from characterizing the initial attack as a deliberate terrorist act also spread across numerous platforms.

Screenshot of an example video on social media falsely claiming to show military vehicles in Dublin on the night of the recent riots. Source: TikTok

With regard to the media, allegations centered around the baseless belief that mainstream outlets are motivated by a desire to undersell purported issues related to migration. The specific claim that journalists were referring to victims as “young people” rather than “children” in an attempt to minimize the tragic nature of the attack spread particularly widely despite having no basis. 

Rioting in Dublin

Within hours of the attack, protesters gathered in central Dublin. These gatherings quickly descended into rioting, with violence initially breaking out on O'Connell Street and Parnell Street before spreading to other areas of the city center.

A key driver of the violence that occurred on the night of November 23 appears to have been anti-migrant sentiment, evidenced in part by xenophobic chants recorded throughout the events. According to reports published by Irish media outlets, this led to an attempted firebombing of a building understood to be a refugee center on Sherrard Street and an attack on a hotel believed to house migrants. 

On the morning of November 24, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris addressed the previous night’s events. Characterizing the rioters as a “lunatic, hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology,” Harris warned members of the press that a significant amount of misinformation was circulating concerning the stabbing and its aftermath. On the effects of the rioting, he informed journalists that 34 arrests had been made following extensive damage to public property and businesses. At least one member of the Gardaí sustained serious injuries, according to Harris. 

False and misleading claims in the days since the rioting

While public order has been restored in Dublin, social media users have continued to air false and misleading narratives concerning the stabbing and the response of authorities.

Much of this discourse has concerned Ireland’s legislation concerning hate crimes and public order. While the country’s hate crime bill has been the subject of international scrutiny for some time, Ireland’s Taoiseach (the Irish office equivalent of a Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar’s commitment to adjusting the law in this area in the wake of the rioting has sparked renewed interest. Elon Musk has been particularly vocal in his opposition to such measures, stating on X that “the Irish PM hates the Irish people” and claiming anticipated changes to Irish law could lead to people being raided by authorities simply “for having a meme on your phone.”

Coimisiún na Meán – “Ireland’s new commission for regulating broadcasters, on-demand services, and online media, and supporting media development”  – released an update on November 24, stating that they had held meetings with both media platforms and the European Commission. The commission remains “concerned” about the spread of misinformation following the events and “emphasises in the strongest possible terms that online services should act responsibly.”

Ireland’s increasingly active far-right

Whether intentional or otherwise, Gript’s decision to publish their claim concerning the nationality of the alleged perpetrator sparked a swift and violent response from Ireland’s far-right. While not reflective of mainstream political thought in the country, this element of Ireland’s political culture has been buoyed in recent years as activists have successfully capitalized on increasing tensions concerning the presence of migrant communities. 

The scale of the far-right’s activity in Ireland can be gauged by the notably high number of anti-migrant protests held in the country in recent months. Citing the Gardaí, Euronews reported earlier this year that 307 rallies took place in 2022. According to the outlet, an exponential rise was seen in early 2023. By August 2023, in Dublin alone, anti-migrant protests accounted for 169 of all 372 events policed by the Gardaí this year. 

Responses to the rioting

The rioting in Dublin appears to have served as a watershed moment in Ireland’s reckoning with far-right elements. In a statement given on November 24, Varadkar announced that his government would use the “full resources of the law” to punish those responsible for the violence and disorder. Varadkar also pledged to revisit and modernize Ireland’s laws concerning hate crimes and incitement. 

“They did not do what they did because they wanted to protect Irish people. They did not do it out of any sense of patriotism, however warped,” Varadkar stated. “They did so because they’re filled with hate. They love violence. They love chaos, and they love causing pain to others. As a country, we need to reclaim Ireland.”

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before