If there was any doubt that social media sows discontent and division, media coverage of Facebook cleared that up for us last week.
An ex-Facebook employee came forward as a whistleblower, making a strong argument that Facebook knew its recommendation algorithm exacerbated divisiveness and would potentially elevate false content aka fake news. Sadly, Holy Mackerel learned first-hand just how quickly rumors can go viral and just how hard it can be to get the truth out there. For those that may not be aware of what happened to Holy Mackerel, let me provide a quick summary:
During the pandemic, the restaurant received a booking request for a party of 30, which they could accommodate in a COVID-19 compliant way given the size of their restaurant. The individual booking the reservation said they were all going to be wearing Hawaiian shirts, as the group had been planning to go to Hawaii but their trip was canceled as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions. There was no mention of it being connected to any political party or hate group. Word spread to other Trump supporters, and a second individual called to book the venue a week later. Again, there was no mention or indication of the group’s intention.
Ehab, the owner of Holy Mackerel, learned of the groups’ real purpose when he received a copy of a flyer advertising the two events. He was understandably horrified, and he immediately had both reservations canceled and told both parties they would be refused service. In a perfect world, that would have been the end of the story. Unfortunately, the Boogaloo group decided to show up anyway. After getting by the group of protesters gathered in the parking lot, the group entered the restaurant where they were immediately reminded that their reservation was canceled and asked to vacate the property. The group tried to linger but Holy Mackerel called in the Wilton Manors Police Department who escorted them off the property. There were numerous members of our community who were dining in at the restaurant that day who heard and saw Holy Mackerel’s proper handling of the situation.
You might think, a year later, that everyone would know the real story by now. Unfortunately, this past weekend, Holy Mackerel was once again attacked online for their supposed willingness to host Trump supporters associated with the Boogaloo movement. I came across a post online complimenting Holy Mackerel on their new menu and inviting fellow residents to check it out. It didn’t take long at all for people to chime in, attacking Holy Mackerel for being Trump supporters and liars. Thankfully, a few informed residents joined me in correcting the facts. I am immensely grateful to those residents who did the right thing: putting their own names and reputations on the line to stand up for Holy Mackerel.
I completely understand how so many people quickly came to believe the stories that circulated on social media. Word spread so fast in so many places, there was nothing the staff at Holy Mackerel could do to respond to it all. Knowing this, I want to publicly apologize to Ehab and his entire team as I recognized I failed to act when I could have slowed the story before it got out of control. As a political candidate when the story broke, I immediately just knew that something didn’t make sense. I had booked a half dozen fundraisers or gatherings at venues for my own campaign, and not a single restaurant asked me the purpose (or political affiliation) of my party. In my heart, I felt confident that Holy Mackerel was like every other restaurant — grateful for any business they could accept during the pandemic and not in the practice of asking the political views of their patrons. While I had not personally posted anything about Holy Mackerel, I regret that I did not proactively try to correct the facts. I could have and should have shared my own experience booking these sorts of events in order to bring perspective to the story.
Earlier this week, I personally apologized to Ehab. He responded as he always has when we’ve discussed the matter: by reiterating how excited he is to be a part of the Wilton Manors community and how optimistic he is we can put this all past us. Ehab clearly holds no grudge or resentment over what happened, instead, his love for what he does, his staff, and our community shines through. Having seen my fellow residents defend Holy Mackerel this past weekend, I am confident that our community is eager to put this behind us as well. Next time an individual or organization in our community is being attacked on social media, I will certainly do my part to try and get all the facts before speaking, and I’m confident others will as well.
- Chris Caputo