George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day has created both civil unrest and violent clashes in all 50 states. Over the past few days, different communities have been blamed for creating or exacerbating the situation, from Antifa, “Boogaloo” members, white supremacists and Russian trolls. "George Soros" was a trending term over the weekend on Twitter as people claimed he funded protesters; this has been fueled by an old video re-emerging online of a 2017 interview with a protester who claimed to be paid by Soros. The original interviewer has described the man as “obviously trolling.”
Evidence of “outside agitators” at different protests is difficult to investigate. An NBC News report from the weekend describes the competing narratives and how they are playing out. Ultimately, as black civil rights activists have stressed, questions raised about outside agitators could hurt the intentions and motivations of those actually supporting the George Floyd protest action, and devalue their concerns.
Important to note
The "outside agitators" narrative illustrates how difficult it is to address misinformation. First Draft is documenting the “outside agitators” phenomenon as the narratives evolve. The current focus of outside actors is about sightings of "random bricks.” New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea tweeted that bricks were being distributed by organized looters, and the White House Twitter account echoed this claim.
There is no evidence that organized looters are responsible for the bricks. In Boston, a video surfaced of police officers unloading bricks from a truck. The narration of the video implied it was a move intended to escalate the protests, however, Northeastern University Police Department claims that is not the case.
Webinar discussion item: How are your newsrooms dealing with the claims of outside agitators? What conversations have you had about the risks and benefits of addressing this narrative?