STORY UPDATED AT 8:42 A.M., JUNE 2
Village of Oswego officials are urging residents concerned about the potential for local property damage or other violence due to protests and riots stemming from the death of George Floyd, 46, at the hands of police May 25 in Minneapolis to seek information posted online by the village, village police or other credible sources.
Jenette Sturges, the village's community relations coordinator, said Tuesday that false social media posts concerning the village have spread over the past two days like wildfire, increasing fears for many residents and business owners.
Sturges said the posts have included allegations that rioters were moving towards the village with plans to target homes flying the American flag and major retail stores along the Route 34 corridor.
"Sometimes it's a really organized fashion when we see rumors flying, and sometimes, particularly when it's on closed (social media) groups, of which there are many around town, it makes it harder for us to quash rumors," Sturges said. "We want all of our residents to be able to communicate to all of their neighbors, in whatever private matter that they want to, it just makes it really difficult for us to monitor and put out information that is true and correct.
"That is our most important goal."
Oswego Police Department spokeswoman Cathy Nevara confirmed Sturges' statement saying, "Rumors we dealt with included that we were expecting a riot and looting in Oswego, and that as a result village officials were telling residents to hide their American flags and telling businesses to close and to board windows. None of these rumors were true.
"We posted multiple times to the village’s website and social media channels that there were no credible threats in the village," Nevara continued.
While the department was unsure of how rumors including the one mentioned by Nevara spread, "Once it ended up on Facebook, it spread like wildfire," she said.
"Just like an old-fashioned game of telephone, most rumors spread because one person hears something, passes it along, and somewhere along the line gets something slightly wrong, and it continues to spiral from there," Nevara said. "In the age of social media, in tense moments, this happens incredibly fast."
When information that officials believe is important for residents to know becomes available, Sturges said it is shared through the village's official channels including its website and social media accounts and the Oswego Police Department's social media accounts.
"We erred on the side of, 'Let's wait until we have things we actually need people to know', and the thing we needed people to know was there's nothing going on," she said.
Sturges also confirmed that the village's businesses were not ordered to close Sunday or Monday and a curfew was never imposed.
Business owners were told that there had been no credible threats in the village, she continued, but village officials encouraged business owners to take precautions like boarding up their windows and doors if they felt it necessary. Business owners and volunteers boarded up stores and restaurants along Main Street in the village's downtown Monday.
"Ultimately business owners know what is best for their business," she said.
As residents and business owners brace for the possible continuation of protests, rioting and looting, Sturges encouraged residents to turn to official sources if they are in search of information. Residents are also encouraged to call the village, or send messages through social media.
"We will absolutely do our best if someone comes to the village directly, to look into whatever rumor is circulating and to put out an official statement, which is what we did last night," Sturges said. "By all means, follow your groups where you socialize and get all kinds of information about what is happening around town, but also make sure you're following reliable sources."
"Residents should ensure that they have accurate information by going to the most appropriate source to fact check a suspected rumor, rather than forward unconfirmed information," Nevara added, also thanking residents who reached out to police to verify information found on social media. "We ask all residents to please take a moment to think critically before sharing, and check with official sources...we want to correct misinformation as soon as possible, and we are always happy to respond to residents when they see these kinds of things."
Sturges also confirmed that the village is in the process of setting up an alert system through emails and text messaging, but the system is not yet ready to make public.