A Mall of America social media campaign urging shoppers to share some of their favorite experiences at the Bloomington megamall was quickly taken over by supporters of the group Black Lives Matter.
What began as a few messages reminiscing on Twitter about Camp Snoopy spiraled into an outlet for demonstrators and their supporters, who commandeered the hashtag #itsmymall.
Jill Renslow, senior vice president of development and marketing for the mall, announced the launch of the public relations campaign in a tweet Monday, asking followers to share MOA stories and qualify for a $500 weekly prize.
The hashtag got traction, but not the way the mall intended.
Protesters from a Black Lives Matter demonstration, which drew 2,000 to 3,000 people to the mall’s rotunda on Dec. 20, used the hashtag to post messages outlining their experiences that day — including photos of police in riot gear, demonstrators being hauled off by police and chanting crowds.
It was one of many protests nationwide in the wake of the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.
In a statement Tuesday night, mall officials said: “Many have rallied in support and offered personal stories about why the mall is important in their lives. The goal of the #ItsMyMall campaign is to give voice to other fans of the mall and provide an opportunity to share through social media their thoughts, pictures and videos expressing why Mall of America is special to them.
“We recognize that some individuals are trying to redirect this campaign for their own purposes. That’s unfortunate, but it will not impact our efforts.”
Bloomington officials charged 11 people as organizers and “ringleaders” of the December demonstration, each of whom pleaded not guilty in Hennepin County District Court earlier this month to criminal misdemeanor charges, including trespass, disorderly conduct, and aiding and abetting trespass.
On Twitter, residents teased the shopping center for its publicity stunt and urged officials to drop charges against the protesters.
“Can the #itsmymall $500 prize be used for legal defense?” wrote Mike Spangenberg.
Others continued to criticize the MOA, saying it denied the group freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.
“The Mall of America is honestly trying to wage a social media campaign AGAINST civil rights and peaceful demonstrations #ItsMyMall #Sike,” Ron Harris posted.
Mall and Bloomington city officials warned demonstrators ahead of time that the mall would not approve a protest inside, offering an outdoor space near the mall for the protest.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the mall is a private venue and thus can bar any unapproved gatherings.
The Black Lives Matter group called for a boycott of the mall earlier this month.
Wintana Melekin, civic and political engagement director at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said she was disappointed in the shopping mall for using a commercial gimmick instead of dropping the charges and taking strides to relieve mounting tension.
“It’s such a condescending statement,” Melekin said. “Thousands of people went to the mall to say ‘it’s our mall’ and the Mall of America responded to us in riot gear, telling us it’s not our mall.”