Social Media's Outreach May Have Affected Riots

GREENSBORO—A social media post could be to blame for sparking some of the riots in Baltimore, Monday.       

A flyer with a picture of a group of people destroying a police vehicle encouraged high school students to "purge" a local mall.

UNC-Greensboro professor Dr. Omar Ali said social media has become a powerful tool for communication.

"What can be produced with social media can be violent but it can also produce a lot of empathy and positive outcome,” Ali said.

In February, social media was place to go for support after the shooting deaths of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill. However, Monday's post led to destruction in Baltimore. 

"What this ultimately was, these violent responses were criminal acts but at the same time I think one has to always appreciate the fact that young people are trying to express themselves and maybe for some of them in their minds, this was a way they could get their voices heard," Ali said.

On Tuesday, Tony LaShon Cleveland Jr.,17, tried to have his voice heard but was unsuccessful. Greensboro Police arrested and charged Cleveland with Inciting a Riot by using social media to encourage followers to meet at a mall and loot stores as well as attack police this coming weekend.

The post has since been taken down but Ali said teens across the country may be sending a message.

"From their perspective they feel on the one hand that they're under attack that young people that look like them are being attacked, so they’re doing this in sympathy. On the other hand they're just young people and young people do things nonsensically," Ali said.

Under North Carolina law, it's a misdemeanor for anyone to willfully incite or urge a person to engage in a riot.