© InfoMigrants
© InfoMigrants

A study by Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne has brought to light the extent to which Italians have a distorted perception of migration. The expert says that this trend is fostered by fake news and the 'demonization' of little-known religious groups.

Italians mistakenly think that there are double the number of migrants than are actually present in the country and that most are Muslim, according to a study presented at the Italian Chamber of Deputies by Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne. "The study tests the notion of 'perceived migration'," he said, adding, "Just as there is a real temperature and a perceived one, there is real migration and one that we build in the social imagination."

The study was conducted on a representative sample in the Italian region, Piedmont. Results showed that over half of those interviewed thought that immigrants account for over 20 percent of residents, exactly double the actual figure of 10 percent, Introvigne said. "Even more interesting is that over 80 percent of interviewees think that most immigrants are Muslims, while in reality 32 percent of immigrants are Muslims and 54 percent are Christians.''

Fake news as driving force behind distorted perceptions

This distorted perception of the migration phenomenon has "significant social and political consequences,'' and is fostered by "a massive phenomenon of fake news that provides wrong information on migrants," the sociologist said.

The study shows that this fake news "demonizes other categories and creates dangerous, intolerant perceptions. Among the groups negatively affected by these distorted perceptions are the so-called "sects," which refer to around one hundred new religious movements. Of these, only around ten have been accused of committing crimes. Everything is thrown together and laws are called for which would affect all of them, Introvigne elaborated.

This mechanism does not only hit new religious movements, he noted. "In certain countries, this affects religions that are considered 'foreign;' which are imagined as plotting against the nation," he added. The Italian sociologist cited Russia as an example of this. The country is plannning to ban Christian group Jehovah's Witnesses soon. Similar plans are underway in Ukraine, which, according to Ukrainian lawyer Olga Panchenko, labels minority groups as "sects" even if they are not  religious.

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