A series of fights broke out across the country just a day after Christmas in malls throughout the United States. As the outbreak of violence went viral over social media, police were called in to respond. Some malls were even evacuated.
Police now believe that the violence originated on social media, where the fights were organized in more than a dozen shopping malls, ruining Boxing Day for thousands of families and shoppers.
The days after Thanksgiving were also a mess. Just from 3pm to 8pm on November 26, disruptions occurred across malls and shopping centers across 12 states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.
The chaos was filmed by shoppers and some of the individuals involved in the brawls and posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat using the term “mall brawl.” A few amused social media users compared the violence to Fight Club and the church brawl from the movie Kingsman.
One Twitter user captured the panic in a New Jersey mall after reports of gunfire prompted an evacuation.
— Axel Rocha (@axelrocha) December 26, 2016
Scenes were also posted to YouTube.
Authorities in Aurora, Colorado say a social media posting drew a crowd of at least 500 people to fight at the Town Center. It took 50 police officers to break up the fight, arresting five juveniles in total. The police said in a statement that the motive behind the disturbance is not yet known.
A mall in Beachwood, Ohio was evacuated after incorrect reports to the police stated that shots were fired. Police say that the large-scale brawl, which involved over 500 people—mostly teens—was organized via social media. The mall was reopened after authorities got the situation under control.
Elsewhere, in Manchester, Connecticut, police broke up several fights at Buckland Hills Mall, which police say were organized by postings on social media. Seven people were arrested.
Police are still investigating how these fights were coordinated across the country. A Fort Worth police spokesperson said that they’re considering whether the incident that occurred in Hulem Mall, in which over 100 teenagers fought each other in the food court, was “some kind of premeditated thing across the nation.”
Speaking to USA Today, Chris McGoey, an LA-based security consultant, believes there to be a “definite connection with social media.”
“This is not a coincidence that on this day you have all of these similar events happening across the country involving a certain age demographic,” said McGoey. “If you look at where many of these incidents occurred, they are in cold climates. Added to that, it happened the day after Christmas, most of these individuals were school-age children and they have nothing to do. And this is the YouTube generation, they record everything, and they want to stimulate things through their social media.”
Social media can be a very powerful tool for both activists and anarchists in its ability to spread a single message to disparate groups of people everywhere. Twitter bragged about its role in the Arab Spring uprising that saw the toppling of a few Middle Eastern dictatorships. It was dubbed a “Twitter revolution”—the first of its kind. Similarly, the social media platform took credit for enabling the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Like anything else, social media platforms like Twitter are tools that can be used for good or ill. And in the case of the mall brawls, they can offset the chaos by helping the police in tracking down and arresting those responsible.