Yasmin Seweid, Donald Trump and the lie that turned into a firestorm

Yasmin Seweid - the lie that sparked a media firestorm

Yasmin Seweid (Credit: Twitter @acribus_initiis)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Teenagers tell lies to get out of trouble, but perhaps it’s a sign of the impact of 2016 that a lie told by one teenager in New York has resulted in a media firestorm.

18-year-old Yasmin Seweid was returning home on December 1 when she claimed three drunken thugs attacked her. She claimed they chanted “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!” along with “Go back to your country”, and tried to steal her headscarf. A police report of the incident was filed, and NYPD officers began to investigate.

Investors quickly realised quickly that her story didn’t add up.  Surveillance video didn’t support her account, and she was confronted with inconsistent sketches of her ‘attackers’. What didn't help matters is that she went to stay with her sister in Fishkill without informing police or her family - requiring them to track her down on Facebook in order to ascertain her safety.

Upon further questioning by police, she eventually admitted the truth: she had fabricated the story, supposedly in order to distract her father, who would have been furious with her for breaking her curfew after a night of drinking with her friends.

A story emerged which supposedly explained her motivations for lying. She had been reported to be having issues with her strict Egyptian Muslim family, who live in New Hyde Park in New York. They claimed she was becoming ‘westernised’, a situation which worsened after she reportedly started dating a Christian boy.

But at this point, the NYPD had spent a week on the hunt for the supposed attackers – a waste of police time for a force that is one of the busiest in the country and has one of the widest patches to cover.

According to a police source, Seweid was charged with obstructing governmental administration and filing a false report – misdemeanours which carry the weight of a year’s imprisonment.

As the court process has continued, Sara Seweid, Yasmin’s older sister, launched an attack on the NYPD and the media on Facebook, saying that jailing her sister would be “violent and abhorrent”.

While not condoning or defending her sister’s actions, she claimed that the NYPD didn’t care for the safety of Muslim women.

She wrote: "The NYPD doesn't care about us or our safety. Never did.

“You don't think calling for an 18 year old girl to be jailed for lying to be violent and abhorrent?"

It is, overall, a giant mess. But why would a single lie by an ordinary teenager create a media storm around Seweid and her family?

Well, for one, this is a young woman who lied about being attacked and wasted hours of police time – and then appeared to try to run from facing the legal consequences of that decision. It's hard to argue that law enforcement have over-exaggerated the offence or singled her out unfairly.

It’s safe to say that Seweid probably never intended a single lie to be blown out of proportion to this degree. It was meant to be for her family alone – something to avoid getting in trouble for something she reportedly wasn’t meant to be doing. But unfortunately,  a core element of that lie is a present and serious issue – anti-Muslim feeling provoked by a divisive President-elect, who rejects support from extremists but fans their flames with his belligerent stance.

Granted the shifting political landscape of 2016 and the nature of the Internet, it was bound to catch fire – as indeed it did.