Businesses within the New Hartford Shopping Center braced for possible destruction last week following a Craigslist advertisement that went viral regarding the need for rioters-for-hire to “drive out” white-owned businesses.
The ad, which circulated on various social media platforms, garnered enough attention to cause businesses within the shopping center to close for the day, board up their windows and prepare for the worst.
The worst never came – the ad turned out to be a fabricated advert claiming to be promoting the Utica chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of violence and rampage, a peaceful march related to the BLM movement occurred in Downtown Utica, ending at the Utica Police Department.
With the BLM movement gaining traction and holding an increasing number of demonstrations, their message is being heard throughout the nation. As the movement continues to grow, the question remains of why someone would use fear-mongering to insight anarchy and convey a message.
“I can admit that I was not surprised at all,” said Director of Africana Studies Dr. Clemmie Harris. “Social media remains one of the top platforms where people uncritically digest information rather than taking the time to question what they are reading. A significant degree of the types of tensions that we are seeing in our society is driven by fear and fraudulent claims found on social media.”
The reaction that businesses had to the riot rumor makes Harris believe that the area is too quick to make a judgment call without making an effort to search for facts surrounding the situation.
“The ad played on the racial fears surrounding the BLM movement, which is erroneous,” Harris said. “How is it that a claim that was transmitted online could cause that type of reaction to occur, given that most of the BLM protests are peaceful? The only conclusion that I can come up with is that the ways that the ability to spread fear overpowers the truth, and it reveals that there is a lot of work to be done with our society.”
Harris, who has entered his fourth year of teaching at Utica College, pondered putting himself in the situation of having false accounts being spread about him.
“How would I feel if someone circulated a false statement about me and then people reacted to me in fear due to that statement,” Harris said. “I would feel very sad that people are more willing to hold to their fears rather than learning the truth or trying to evolve past their beliefs.”
Harris just hopes that this escalated situation at the shopping center will open people’s eyes to the realities that we are living and that people will have a better understanding and respect for those who are fighting for racial equality and social justice.
“It is not just about the fact that some of the businesses had overreacted,” Harris said. “It is about recognizing that there is something deeper that caused this visceral reaction, which was rooted in fear and driven by racist understandings of a movement that is busy trying to raise awareness for racial inequalities.”