"Today my 15-year-old daughter… was nearly kidnapped."
On the weekend of September 17-18, 2022, Leicester was rocked by violence as groups of mainly young Hindu and Muslim men clashed.
It resulted in dozens of arrests and an independent review into the matter has been ordered.
Fear was spread throughout the city but how much of it was fuelled by fake news?
Temporary chief constable Rob Nixon said there had been a deliberate attempt by people to use social media to spread fake news.
Leicester’s mayor Peter Soulsby also said fake news was to blame, stating that otherwise there was “no obvious local cause for this at all”.
At least one of the men sentenced admitted to being influenced by social media.
One false story was spread several times.
The Facebook post read: “Today my 15-year-old daughter… was nearly kidnapped.
“3 Indian boys got out and asked her if she was Muslim. She said yes and one guy tried to grab her.”
The post was liked hundreds of times on Twitter after community activist Majid Freeman shared the story on September 13.
He also shared a message from the police which he said was “confirming the incident which took place yesterday [12 September]”.
But in reality, there had been no kidnap attempt.
One day later, Leicestershire Police issued a statement which said that “the incident did not take place”.
Majid Freeman later deleted his posts and said the attempted abduction had not happened. He said his initial version had been based on conversations with the family making the allegation.
However, the fake story kept being shared on other platforms.
On WhatsApp, messages were being forwarded and were initially taken by some as the truth.
On Instagram, profiles shared screenshots of the original post and allegedly accused a Hindu man of being responsible for the “failed abduction”.
It is likely that the false story was shared further on private networks.
Many in Leicester said the roots of the disorders date further back.
A lot of media reports said that tensions rose after India defeated Pakistan in cricket’s Asia Cup on August 28, 2022.
The prevalence of misinformation resulted in distortion.
Video footage from that night showed a group of men, some in India kits, marching down Melton Road shouting “death to Pakistan”.
Scuffles broke out before the police arrived.
Being Pursued by a Mob
Many netizens focused on another video apparently showing a Muslim man being attacked after walking into the crowd. But it was later widely indicated that the man was Sikh.
Some attribute the disorder to an incident on May 22.
Grainy footage purportedly showed a 19-year-old Muslim man being pursued by a group of men described in social media posts as “Hindu extremists”.
While the truth is still being investigated, social media posts have consistently described it as religiously motivated.
These incidents and many others have led to increases in social media activity.
An investigation by BBC Monitoring found that approximately 500,000 tweets in English mentioned Leicester in the context of recent disorders.
Within a sample of 200,000 tweets, just over half of mentions were made by accounts located in India.
The top hashtags used by many of the Indian accounts included #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK.
The most prolific user of some of these hashtags had no profile picture and the account was only created earlier in September.
These are signs that can suggest a likelihood that individuals are deliberately creating accounts to push a narrative.
Prior to the clashes on September 17-18, there was no significant volume of tweets.
There were also claims that coach-loads of Hindu activists were entering Leicester to cause trouble. A video showed a coach outside a Hindu temple in London, with a voice saying the coach had just returned from Leicester.
The owner of the coach company later said he was receiving threats. He also stated that none of his coaches had travelled to Leicester.
Bogus claims also circulated about the causes of a fire in Birmingham on September 19.
Posts viewed thousands of times on Twitter blamed “Islamic extremists” for setting the fire, without evidence.
West Midlands Fire Service investigated the fire and concluded it started by accident when outdoor burning of rubbish spread to the building.
While misinformation has been circulated, not all social media posts were misleading.
Leicester has been home to many South Asians who have lived harmoniously, which is why the clashes have shocked residents.
Some people believe that Indian politics is being imported to Leicester, however, no direct link to such groups has been found.
Another narrative being pushed is that a small South Asian community, allegedly with conservative views, started the tensions.
It is difficult to pinpoint what has caused the violent clashes in Leicester but one certainty is that social media is accused of being the reason for such tensions.