The security team at the Mall of America may have created a fictitious Facebook account to surreptitiously compile information about Black Lives Matter supporters and track their plans. Citing documents it obtained, The Intercept says that the mall — which has its own counter terrorism unit — created a fictitious person named "Nikki Larson," who they used to befriend and monitor protesters on the social network.
That fishy account has since been quietly removed from Facebook, though it dates back to 2009 and appears to be the work of a former Mall of America intelligence analyst. Before the account was yanked, "Nikki" had 817 friends, many of whom The Intercept says had ties to local Minnesota political activism groups. While active, the account also liked the Black Live Matter Facebook group in Minneapolis and changed the top header with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, presumably to keep up appearances.
"Nikki" had 817 friends
The mall, which gets more than 100,000 shoppers in its doors each day, was the scene for a demonstration last December, where some 3,000 protestors convened as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. That led to the arrest of 11 people, as well as 25 others who are alleged to be involved in its planning. The 11 who were arrested now face misdemeanor charges from the city and prison time thanks to laws that govern what happens on private property.
In a response to the report, the Mall of America said it does not track people or groups of people based on their political viewpoints, but that it tracks "conversations that may pose a security concern.":
The safety and security of our guests is the number one priority at Mall of America. To ensure that safety, our security teams use a careful combination of physical means, some of which our guests can see and many of which they cannot see, as well as digital means such as social media. We do not follow individuals or groups based on political viewpoints however we do track conversations that may pose a security concern. These conversations may include unauthorized illegal protests, potential criminal activity or harmful acts on Mall of America property. For obvious reasons, we don’t go into detail about all of those security measures. The goal is, and always will be, to protect Mall guests and create a safe and enjoyable environment for the whole family.
Catfishing, or using a false online account to deceive someone online, is not out of the norm for law enforcement. Last year, officers in Washington posed as a woman on social media to successfully nab a wanted male suspect. The technique can backfire though. In January, the Justice Department had to pay out a $134,000 settlement to a woman whose name and photos they had used in attempts to catfish other suspects, all without her permission.