A recent article claiming that London-based street artist Banksy was arrested, duped Internet users everywhere after a sketchy press release made its way around the web. It claimed that the London Metropolitan Police had discovered Banksy’s identity and apprehended the artist in his apartment. The release claimed that police had identified the elusive artist as Paul Homer and that he was arrested on charges including counterfeiting, vandalism and conspiracy. The story quickly blew up, with Banksy supporters taking to Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook with cries of protest. A deeper look into the story makes it clear that the arrest was a hoax, citing false sources and identifying people involved who do not even exist.
Although often criticized for being contrived and sometimes unoriginal, Banksy’s work is widely known for its controversial political themes, critiquing capitalism, big business and war. Remaining anonymous, his work developed in the Bristol underground scene and can be seen covering public spaces primarily throughout England.
With a huge, worldwide fan base––largely thanks to the Internet––the news of Banksy’s apparent arrest was met with overwhelming backlash. Twitter users tweeted at the London Metropolitan Police, demanding his release. Websites immediately began running articles in response to the arrest.
The consensus among his supporters was that Banksy’s pieces are works of art and should not be treated as a violation of the law. Many felt that bigger, “realer” problems should have taken precedence over his arrest.
One of my personal favorite tweets, mentioned in the Huffington Post, came from former conservative Member of Parliament of Corby Louise Mensch. Mensch tweeted at the UK Metropolitan police, saying, “You have to be kidding me, @metpoliceuk, Banksy? There are so many criminals out there—Banksy? The great artist?” She later corrected the misinformation by tweeting, “OK. Apparently it’s bullshit. Sorry @metpoliceuk #Banksy.”
One interesting theme of discussion among certain users was the issue of race. Many people expressed feelings that, had a person of color been caught creating graffiti, they would be labeled as a thug and met with anger from their community, whereas Banksy’s arrest led to criticism of the police and support from his fans. While it could be argued that this is simply because of Banksy’s notoriety, it was interesting to see the varying responses and discussions sparked by the hoax.
The amount of uproar and publicity generated by a single inaccurate source is what I find most provoking about this story. What started with one press release provoked a worldwide response on the Internet, which is somewhat alarming. The number of people who immediately read the article, accepted it as fact and continued to spread it just proves true all the times our teachers and parents told us not to believe everything you read on the Internet.