Security at the Mall of America created fake Facebook profiles to snoop on political activists. Documents obtained by The Intercept show how glorified mall cops catfished Black Lives Matter protest participants by making up a fictional activist persona called "Nikki Larson" and befriending them on Facebook.
Mall security used these Facebook friendships to build dossiers on activists involved with a December 20 police brutality protest at the sprawling Minnesota mall, including organisers who were later charged by local law enforcement for involvement with the protest.
Cops using Facebook to catfish people is nothing new, but the MoA is a privately-owned mall (which is why actual police were able to arrest protestors for being on MoA property). And the Mall of America's mall cop squad conducts intensive surveillance activities on political dissidents using catfishing tactics. (I've contacted Facebook to ask whether fraudulent accounts like "Nikki Larson" violate its terms of service.)
It appears the Larson account has been active for years, letting mall cops gather intelligence on Minnesota activists:
The Larson account appears to have been created in 2009, and had 817 friends, many of whose pages showed they were involved in Minnesota political activism. The account also "liked" Facebook groups associated with Ferguson activists, the American Indian Movement Interpretive Center, Occupy Minneapolis, SumOfUs, the SEIU Minnesota State Council, and Communities United Against Police Brutality, among others.
Mall of America has been letting its Paul Blarts dip their toes into intelligence gathering for years. Back in 2011, an NPR investigation revealed that the nation's busiest mall had its very own counterterrorism task force.
It's not clear whether the Catfishing Unit is part of the task force or something else entirely, but either way: This incident is a good reminder to be wary of accepting friend requests from people you don't know in real life on Facebook, and a good reminder that the Mall of America is apparently a surveillance hotbed with no problem with deceiving political activists.
Contact the author at [email protected] Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: FF8F 0D7A AB19 6D71 C967 9576 8C12 9478 EE07 10C