A Facebook post someone doctored to announce a planned “riot” at Cermak Plaza in Berwyn for May 29 was shared widely on multiple social media platforms on Thursday, leading local police to go on heightened alert.
The doctored post, shared as a screenshot, used a legitimate profile picture and part of a Facebook message from a Maywood community forum, which referenced events in Minneapolis. The doctored post, however, used a fake profile name and added the information, claiming “my brothers are organizing a RIOT at the CERMAK PLAZA this FRIDAY.”
A search of the profile name used in the screenshot returned no results, and it appears unlikely that the message as depicted in the screenshot was ever shared on Facebook as an actual status update or comment.
The purpose of the doctored post appears to have been to make sure it was widely shared and provoked outrage, which it did, swiftly. And because of prior flash mob incidents that have targeted North Riverside Park Mall, which is close to Cermak Plaza, police say they are taking it seriously, hoax or not.
“It’s unfortunate that people are trying to make life disrupted,” said North Riverside Police Chief Carlos Garcia. “But anything that poses a threat to the public, we can’t downplay it.”
Garcia said he began receiving messages that included the screenshot on Thursday afternoon. He notified surrounding police agencies, who have offered their assistance if it’s needed.
In addition, two regional task forces, the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS) and the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) have been placed on call in case there’s need for a large police response.
“If there are protests, hopefully they’ll be peaceful, but we’re taking the proper precautions to make sure everybody is safe,” Garcia said.
Berwyn Police Chief Michael Cimaglia had no immediate comment, saying the department’s public information officer would get back to the Landmark.
Meanwhile, the woman whose profile picture and partial Facebook post were used for the doctored screenshot, said she was shocked when she learned it was making the rounds on social media.
“My initial reaction was that it had to be a joke,” said Vera Giles Norris, who has a large following on social media through various groups she administers, including Missing Please Come Home, a group seeking information on missing children.
Norris said her Facebook inbox was flooded with people sharing the screenshot.
“When I saw the post, totally edited with my picture attached to it, my heart fell to my knees,” Norris said. “I thought, ‘This is serious.'”
Norris said she called Berwyn police to let them know she did not post the message and she called the mayor of the southwest suburban town where she lives to let him know, too.
“People know I wouldn’t use my voice for such nonsense,” Norris said. “I still don’t know where this is going.
“Whoever would create such a post, I’d like to hear from them. Why could you do such a thing? I don’t know the effect of something like this, but I have a family and a reputation in the community, and this goes totally against everything I stand for.”