The Troll of the Month is an episode we choose every month to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show the positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.
German paper Bild was pushed to change a deceptive and xenophobic headline, after social media outburst accused them of fearmongering.
People on Twitter, including a politician from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDL), successfully called out Bild for fuelling racism through sensationalistic and misleading headline.
The headline, which appeared on 7 January 2018 on Bild.de, said “four out of five refugees do not pass the German language test”. The preview page of the article continued: “the goal of the federal government is for the refugees to learn German as quickly as possible. But the results are sobering. With BILDplus you can read about how much the taxpayers are paying for the German language courses and why, after 1300 hours of lessons their language isn’t at the level to satisfy even helper-status jobs.”
But for those with a subscription, or willing to pay 0.99 euro to gain access to the article, the full text would uncover the answers to those accusatory questions and showed how misleading the headline was.
Statistics of the Governmental Agency for Migration and Refugees show that, in reality, about 76 percent of the refugees who took the language test passed it (126,868 out of 165,997).
As listed in the full text of the article, the 4 out of 5 figure mentioned by Bild did not refer to all refugees who took the test, but rather only to those who were illiterate. Furthermore, it is not even a case that they’ve failed the test – they’ve failed to reach B1 level of German according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages..
Their original clickbait headline might have marginally increased Bild’s online subscription margins, but it also presented a distorted representation of facts, thus contributing to fuel division and xenophobia among society.
After a backlash on social media, the headline was changed into “Refugees have problems with language tests.” While it might still remain inaccurate, given the governmental statistics, it doesn’t pretend to be factual, and resembles more to the headline of an opinion piece rather than hard news.
But when the headline was edited, some of the damage was already done. As the Bild watchdog Bildblog reported, newspapers and politicians (including the far-right AfD), had already picked up on the original headline and used it to confirm and spread prejudice, playing on the discourse of the impossibility to get “them” to become more like “us”.
On Twitter, Julian Reichelt, editor in chief for Bild digital, offered a lukewarm apology on Twitter, admitting that the headline was badly formulated, but also stating that it doesn’t automatically make it a lie.
While it is true that the headline was “badly formulated”, to say the least, data can be misused and convey deceptive information when taken out of contest and when its sample is very circumscribed. Journalists and editors have a duty to be careful when selecting their words, and whenever they don’t do so, a strong civil society and regulatory bodies should be able to call them out, as it successfully happened with Bild.