Social media has proven a way to reconnect people, to publicize events, report the news and engage voters and community members. It’s also a place where those seeking to cause confusion, start trouble, demonize enemies and cause mischief thrive.
Over the past several months, that mischief has been directed at North Riverside Park Mall in the form of social media posts that on one level appear harmless. Police Chief Deborah Garcia says that since the first of the year, police and mall officials flag a couple such social media posts each month.
On March 22, they flagged another announcing “North Riverside Mall. Trend-trend-trend. Get hear or hear bout it” for the following day at 4 p.m. The message ends with a seemingly benign “Come out and have fun,” but police know that the messages are a call for a flash mob.
Similar messages were circulated on social media prior to a Dec. 29 incident that drew hundreds of juveniles on the weekend before New Year’s and caused mall officials to shut down the shopping center.
The impact of the flash mobs are difficult to predict. Some, like the one that occurred on March 23, drew a good crowd. Others not so much. North Riverside’s police department does not have the manpower to provide blanket protection for the mall every weekend, so they try to gauge possible impact by tracking a social media post’s reach. It’s an imperfect science.
Mall officials clearly are getting frustrated, and that frustration no doubt is shared by businesses near the mall to the east and in Berwyn where the youths disperse when they are booted from the mall.
Why is North Riverside being targeted so often? Well, it’s easy to get to by public transportation, it has fun attractions for kids like the movie theater, the food court and, now, the entertainment complex Round One.
As much as the mall has tried to discourage juveniles from coming to the mall on weekend nights – it institutes a youth escort policy on those nights – it’s tough when security are so badly outnumbered.
We’re not sure what the solution is. Mall officials and police continue to try to crack the code on discouraging flash mobs, but until then it appears we’re not done with such incidents.
Which is a real shame, because the mall is a boon to North Riverside in so many other way, not just as a sales tax generator. It draws other businesses, who want to capitalize on the traffic the mall brings, to the area. It’s the village’s single largest economic engine.