This post documents – in detail – how white supremacists used social media to create genuine fear and hysteria at the University of Missouri in late 2015.
White supremacists, KKK and/or neo Nazi’s used social media propaganda to incite fear and panic by falsely asserting that the KKK was on the University of Missouri campus and acting violently (Assertion, Lie). This propaganda created fear among the students, who then passed along frightening hoax statements and photos as facts, creating more fear and panic.
This propaganda campaign was successful: the hoaxers made it look like the propaganda came from the students themselves, successfully created fear and panic, which led to a shutdown of the university.
CAUTION: This page contains imagery that most people consider objectionable.
During unrest at the University of Missouri, social media was filled with rumors and provocative images intended to incite emotion.
- The story begins with anonymous threats made against black students at the campus. These threats, made on YikYak social media were very real (two students at other college campuses were arrested for making those threats).
- White supremacists began circulating their own rumors on social media, purporting to be from University of Missouri students witnessing acts of hate and violence on campus. As we will see, these were provable hoaxes designed to incite panic and fear.
- White supremacists circulated hoax posts on Twitter allegedly showing photos of the KKK on campus and saying violence was occurring “right now” or was eminent.
- So many messages flooded social media, that the student body president passed along these rumors that the KKK had shown up on campus and added commentary that he was working with local police and other authorities (an “Appeal to Authority” which added authenticity to the report). Later, the student body president formally retracted his tweet.
- But by then, students and others were sharing these hoax images of KKK members allegedly on campus.
- These social media posts were often captioned as “happening right now” but in fact, the photos were taken at events, in other states, occurring years and months before the situation at the University of Missouri.
- Days later, some were blaming students for the propaganda that actually came from white supremacists.
- At this point, social media propaganda successfully generated mass panic and fear.
Continue reading for details never before presented.
Example Hoax Tweets on Social Media
Warning: The following images inspire fear and revulsion in most viewers – that is their goal. But the images and their message is a deception. This deception was so a successful that by the end of this set (and this is a partial set), some viewers were so inflamed they were calling for acts of violence in response.
This collection is a powerful example and reminder of the frightening potential of social media propaganda.
CAUTION: Do not assume anything about the person indicated as having posted the item shown. LA Times reporter Matt Pearce, who was at the campus during this period, found one of these “KKK” posters was coming from white supremacist Andrew Anglin. See below for details. I found others from fake accounts.
This twitter tweet appeared online, saying the KKK was at the University of Missouri (the account was since suspended by Twitter). But the photo was actually taken in July 2015 in South Carolina and had nothing to do with Missouri.
The photo illustrates hate perpetrated by racist KKK members, but this image did not occur at the University of Missouri as shown in this screen capture:
More hoax tweets were broadcast on Twitter such as the next image, perverting to be at the University of Missouri. But this photo is from a Neo-Nazi rally in Kentucky in April 2012.
Here is another hoax image purporting to be from the University of Missouri:
The above photo is also from the July 2015 South Carolina event. (The photo and name on that Twitter ID have also since been changed.)
Then this over the top photo appeared, allegedly linked to the University of Missouri – note my original copy of the shared photo was lost during a server migration – this, however, is the stock photo that had been used in social media at the time:
The photo, supposedly from the University of Missouri, was a stock photo from April 22, 2006, Lansing Michigan. The photo illustrates hate perpetrated by neo Nazis but has nothing to do with the University of Missouri.
Then we get these photos purporting to show extreme violence at the University of Missouri:
When these hoax images appeared on social media, recipients believed them to be true. LA Times reporter Matt Pearce noted the account for “stormer9k” belonged to a long time white supremacist. The Twitter account was subsequently suspended:
Lack of Media Coverage
The lack of media coverage becomes evidence that this must be happening… But it is not just the “media” that is not covering this – in fact, no one could verify these rumors because they were not true:
(Her fear is justified and that was the goal of the KKK’s social media propaganda and her comment is justified.)
Police Say Rumors of KKK on Campus are False
When the police say rumors of the KKK on campus are false this too is then interpreted as a conspiracy – and evidence that the KKK are really there.
Authorities Spread Unverified Rumors Adding Legitimacy
As noted earlier, the U of M student body president had passed along unverified social media rumors, which gave an “appeal to authority” legitimacy to the hoaxes. The student body president who passed along the rumor later retracted the claim of the KKK being on campus:
About “Bricks into dorm windows”
No broken windows. “Several rumors appeared to be unsubstantiated, however, including reports of gunshots off campus and a brick being thrown through a fraternity window.”
The Fear and Panic was Genuine
At this point, the fear experience by students was a genuine fear – but most of the fear was created by a social media fire storm that had run out of control and was not based on actual incidents at the University of Missouri but on the postings of false information on Facebook and Twitter (likely by KKK and their sympathizers), and valid threats on YikYak.
The KKK ran a successful social media propaganda campaign directed at the students of the University of Missouri. The success of this campaign vindicates the fear displayed by the students.
The real threats were on YikYak, a social media web service that has a long history of being used for making anonymous threats against schools and colleges – and the threat to kill blacks was very frightening and real.
Leading to Calls for Violence
The collection of false propaganda messaging snowballed into encouragement to begin killing white people:
Days later, the impact of this propaganda campaign was still being twisted – this post now blames the students for the hoaxes:
White supremacists not only initiated the false reports, their propaganda campaign successfully blamed the students for the false reports.
Social Media Propaganda is Dangerous to Society
The above timeline shows how propagandists incite people using fear and use that fear to motivate others into violence. This example illustrates the incredible – and dangerous- power of social media propaganda (as well as the lack of skepticism that pervades society.)
History itself is filled with many examples of how major uproars were created out of thin air through the power of propaganda methods (see Daniel Gardner’s book The Science of Fear for more).
If you wondered how entire populations could be incited to engage in shocking activities (like how Germans turned into Nazis, or how the US became gung-ho to invade Iraq – twice), it is through the power of propaganda messaging.
Creating hysteria is easier today thanks to social media propaganda. Today, anyone can generate fear and hate on social media.
And this scares me and it should scare you too.
THIS POST IS ABOUT THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE SITUATION THAT OCCURRED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE PROBLEMS OF RACISM IN SOCIETY OR THE HISTORY OF RACISM IN MISSOURI.