• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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“Arthur Arkman” and Finsbury Park Mosque: An Example of Fake News

Yesterday, the UK awoke to the news that a man had used a van to attack worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque. However, it was not until late in the afternoon that the suspect was formally identified as one Darren Osborne, a resident of Cardiff.

Perhaps inevitably, the information lacuna for most of the day provided the perfect condition for the spread of false rumour and fake news, both on social media and on wannabe news websites. Thus it was that the name “Arthur Arkman” was bandied about, in some cases alongside photographs of various individuals (including an American radio host).

Where did the name come from? One early appearance was on Eurovizyon, a London-based Turkish-language website that gives the appearance of being a mainstream media outlet. Less obscure was an American site called Coed, which has a blue tick on Twitter and which describes itself as “The secret weapon for Lifestyle Brands seeking to engage College-Educated 18-34 Year-Olds”. The site ran a piece luridly headlined “Arthur Arkman: Full Story & Must-See Details Of Finsbury Park Terrorist”, which was also carried by Hungary Today.

Eurovizyon has since referred to Osborne in other articles, but the site’s original false identification remains online without explanation. Hungary Today, meanwhile, has deleted its page on the subject. Coed, though, simply amended its original story to make it about Osborne instead; but as is often the case when an internet headline is corrected, the original error remains preserved in the url:

The surname “Arkman” also fuelled speculation that the attacker was either a Turkish national or an American of Turkish heritage. One site even claimed that police had confirmed that the attacker was inspired by “Muslim extremist ideology”; this was the Leicester Post, which, despite sounding like a long-established and staid UK regional newspaper, is actually an American website. Google News Search has been gamed by such sites:

Meanwhile, far-right websites best left under their rock have been revelling in the idea that “Arkman” may have been Jewish.