While there have been only a few arrests of looters in Houston after Hurricane Harvey hit, fake reports have spread online with the hashtags #HoustonLootCrew and #HarveyLootCrew. Past natural disasters and other events have also led to the spread of fake looting reports.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told ABC News Monday morning that they are working to help people who need to be rescued from the catastrophic floods caused by Harvey. Police will also protect the city from looters as the floodwater recedes.
“We’ve already arrested a handful of looters. We’ve made it real clear to our community we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect their homes and their businesses,” Acevedo told ABC News. “And when people come from the outside to Houston, Texas, know we’re going to be out in the city, we’re not going to rest as a police department or law enforcement community until people restore their lives.”
The Washington Post reports that some took matters into their own hands. Staff member sat the Lancaster Hotel stayed behind to protect the building from looters.
Mike Lopez of KPRC2 Houston reported that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said only one person was arrested for looting on Monday.
Despite real reports of minimal looting, fake reports have spread on Twitter. For example, BReaking911 tweeted what it claimed was a video from Houston showing “Widespread looting reported in Houston as police are trying to save lives.” The tweet was retweeted over 1,400 times. The hashtags #HarveyLootCrew and #HoustonLootCrew also gained traction.
This is not the first time the “Loot Crew” hashtags have been used to spread false reports. In April 2015, Motherboard reported that #BaltimoreLootCrew was used after the Baltimore riots following Freddie Gray‘s death. One example of a fake #BAltimoreLootCrew post showed a man stealing a UPS truck.
Buzzfeed discovered that many of the #BaltimoreLootCrew posts used old photos. The site noted that there was also a “#FergusonLootCrew.”
In 2012, The Observer pointed out that there was also a “#SandyLootCrew” after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. At the time, a group called “Gay N**ger Association of America” posted tweets with #SandyLootCrew, spreading false photos of African Americans looting. These tweets were picked up by The Daily Mail, Drudge Report and Infowars. There were real reports of looting during Sandy, but many of the #SAndyLootCrew posts were misleading.