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“Bob Smith” described himself as an activist from Fayette County who was “left of Bernie.” He was a Protestant, anarchist, and protester. His Facebook Likes included Bernie Sanders, the Southern Poverty Law Center, I Love Being Black, and Red & Black Anarchists 2.
The only problem was, he wasn’t real.
Memphis, Tennessee, police used the fake Facebook profile as a honeypot trap to spy on leftist Black activists, according to a report by the Appeal, a criminal justice news outlet. It obtained screenshots of conversations from community activists who had interacted with the Bob Smith account. The profile was used to gain their trust and acquire information about local organizing efforts.
The Facebook account was initially brought up in April during the ACLU of Tennessee lawsuit against the police department concerning surveillance. However, they were not allowed any testimony regarding details on the purpose behind the Bob Smith account. According to the Appeal, the profile was friending activists as early as August 2015.
One activist received a request from Smith, who identified himself as “Tim Ryan” from Fayette County. The activist was charged with “criminal trespass” at a Black Lives Matter rally two months after their conversation.
In another interaction, the account called himself a “fellow protester” and said he lived in Oxford, Mississippi.
The police has also monitored Memphis’ Black community in other ways. According to CityLab, authorities participated in numerous events undercover. Documents from the ACLU of Tennessee lawsuit also reveal that police had a PowerPoint presentation titled “Blue Suede Shoes” that profiled Black Lives Matter activists who had attended a vigil to protest the police shooting of Darrius Stewart, a Memphis teenager.
In April, it was revealed that the largest Black Lives Matter page on Facebook belonged to a white, middle-aged man in Australia.
H/T the Appeal
Kristina Nguyen is an editorial intern for the Daily Dot. She is studying journalism and American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She has previously contributed to Orange magazine and Silk Club's QUIET! zine.