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October 12, 2013

Why do conspiracy theories about Malala go viral?

The 16-year-old is celebrated for standing up to a Taliban attack, but in many places she's seen as suspicious rather than iconic.
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 Malala Yousafzai arrives to speak at an International Day of the Girl event at World Bank Headquarters on October 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

Pakistani education rights activist Malala Yousafzai is celebrated as an icon of human rights, but around the world some questioned the sincerity of Western adulation. Theories abound as to why one girl captured so many hearts in the West, including the politicians who facilitated her life-saving medical treatment after she was shot in a Taliban attack. As Malala's iconic status grows, critics accuse her of becoming a political pawn. For some, the suspicion has grown into full-blown theories about covert Western support for Malala in a bid to destabilise Pakistan.

An article satirising those theories went viral - both among those who understood the joke, and those who did not. Dawn columnist Nadeem Paracha imagined an elaborate story of Malala as "Jane", a girl born in Hungary to Christian missionaries, who left the child with her Pakistani adopted parents after they secretly converted to Christianity.
 
An Iranian news agency, however, took the work of satire as fact. PressTV published a piece about Paracha's farcical story called "Truth about Malala: Fraud unearthed!". Though PressTV scrubbed the page from their website, many screenshots remain online.
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