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Anti-immigrant group mistakes empty bus seats for women wearing burqas

Members of an anti-immigrant Facebook group out of Norway are being mocked online for calling a picture of empty bus seats in Oslo "terrifying" and "tragic."

A man named Johan Slattavik posted the photo and posed a simple question: "What do people think of this?" 

Many members of the private group, which is called "Fedrelandet viktigst" or "Fatherland first," mistook the six upholstered seats for six women wearing burqa veils. For them, the picture seemed like proof of their fears about the recent influx of Muslim immigrants into the country.

Hundreds of people commented, sparking a massive debate between Norwegians. 

"It looks really scary, should be banned," one user commented. "You can never know who is under there. Could be terrorists with weapons."

"Should not be legal," another added.

But some pointed out that the picture was, in fact, of empty seats — not Muslim women.

"Imagine that empty buses can create so many hate comments," one woman commented.

Sindre Beyer, a former Norwegian politician who said he joined the group out of curiosity, shared the original post and published 23 pages of the group's comments.

"What happens when a photo of some empty bus seats is posted to a disgusting Facebook group, and nearly everyone thinks they see a bunch of burqas?" he wrote in a post Friday that has since gone viral.

Hva skjer når det legges ut et bilde av noen tomme busseter på en brungrumsete gruppe på Facebook og nesten alle tror de ser en gjeng med burka ?😳

Posted by Sindre Beyer on Friday, July 28, 2017

Beyer said he shared the image to expose prejudice within the far-right group.

"After following the group for a while I felt the need to find the best possible post to share with the public," Beyer told CBS News. "When I came across this post I found it tragicomic and with a obvious symbolic value. It frightens me if such groups grow without being contradicted."

Slattavik, the man behind the hoax photo, said he posted it as a "joke."

He told Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen he was "interested to see how people's perceptions of an image are influenced by how others around them react." He said he "ended up having a good laugh."

But Beyer said prejudice against Muslims is an issue that should be taken seriously.

"I believe it is only through an open debate, dialogue and interpersonal relationships we can get the knowledge and understanding we need to avoid polarization," he added. "This is just as relevant to the silent majority as it is for the prejudices."

Norway recently became the latest European country to propose restrictions on wearing face-covering veils in public places, joining France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria, according to The New York Times. In June, Norway's government announced a plan to ban burqas in kindergartens, schools and universities.

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