When most people see an empty bus, they likely think nothing more than “cool, I can sit anywhere I want.” For a group of Norwegian racists, however, a recent photograph featuring row after row of unoccupied bus seats prompted a very different reaction: Islamophobic panic.
The above picture was posted to the “Fedrelandet viktigst” (“Fatherland first”) Facebook group, along with the simple prompt, “What do people think of this?” That reportedly kicked off a raucous discussion about Norway’s influx of Muslim immigrants, as well as recently proposed legislation that would ban face-covering veils in schools and universities.
“Get them out of our country, those who look like collapsed umbrellas,” one commenter reportedly wrote. “Frightening times we are living in.”
Others described the photo as “frightening,” and “tragic.”
Just one problem. The “women” responsible for the racist freak-out weren’t real. There was no one in the picture at all—just upholstered chairs.
“I laid out the photo to see what happened,” explained Johan Slattavik, a Norwegian journalist who posted the picture to the Facebook group. It was, Slattavik said, “a little practical joke.”
That joke, nevertheless, struck a major nerve after Sindre Beyer, another Facebook user, shared screenshots of the ensuing anti-immigrant hatefest, so “people could see what’s happening in the dark corners” online.
The image was given an even wider audience shortly thereafter, when racist internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos shared a slightly more self-aware version of the picture on his Facebook page, where it was shared more than 5,000 times.
For Byer, however, the lesson of this racist Rorschach test is clear.
“I’m shocked by how much hate and fake news is spread [on Fedrelandet viktigst],” he explained. “The hatred that was displayed toward some empty bus seats really shows how much prejudices trump wisdom.”