OPINION: Populux, the first casualty of New Detroit

If throwing a rock and hiding your hands is the new norm for businesses in Detroit, then we've got a lot of work to do.

Let’s preface this by saying that by no means does the alleged Populux Twitter hack we discussed at BLAC last week trump other news of the day. But it doesn’t mean we should sweep it under the rug, because it’s symbolic of an issue we need to confront right away in a changing Detroit.

For those who missed it, Populux is an electronic dance music – EDM – club in Midtown right on the QLine. (Or, if it sounds like I’ve spoken a foreign language just now, it’s a club formerly known as the Magic Stick in an area not too far from the Cass Corridor right on Woodward Avenue.) Late Thursday night, two incendiary tweets went out from Populux’s account: One, a retweet of the shit-stirring Republican ex-congressman/talking head Joe Walsh, and another tweet directly from Populux alleging that “libtards” were the cause of last week’s violence and a faux hashtag “#fuckblacklivesmatter.”

At first glance, it could have been another instance of what happens with many brand and business social media accounts: Someone with access to the account, maybe a social media manager or a marketing associate, forgot to switch between the biz account and their personal one, and fired off a tweet without realizing it was going through the wrong channel. You might remember a similar incident happened with Chrysler’s Twitter account a few years ago when the account proclaimed that no one in the Motor City could drive.

But in the case of Populux, the tweet and the retweet sat for hours as Twitter and Facebook users called the club out, threatening boycotts and demanding answers.

Populux finally answered Friday morning. And their answer sucked.

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“We sincerely apologize about the views expressed in some tweets that went out last night. Our account was hacked,” read a tweet from the Populux account.

Something smelled fishy. Mainly because when that tweet went out, the offending “libtards” tweet was deleted but the Walsh retweet was still up there. Even that could have been a rookie mistake. A club’s Twitter account isn’t actually a high-stakes job.

And because running a club’s Twitter account is child’s play, it’s why the club’s further actions seem dubious. Later that day, Populux spoke with The Detroit News saying that the club closed down, and that the FBI was investigating the Twitter account. Then suddenly, all of the club’s social media accounts were taken down.

It’s right about here I’m calling bullshit.

I highly doubt anyone would want to hack the Twitter account of a random EDM club. I further doubt the FBI’s Detroit Division – remember, these are the same investigators that lobbied, and successfully prosecuted, charges against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, cancer-patient scam artist Farid Fata, and several corrupt Detroit Public Schools officials – would take the time to investigate a random EDM club’s Twitter account.

But let’s get off the how-to’s of Twitter for a second. What does it say when Populux, whose rebranding now needs a serious re-examination, can just up and walk away when the going gets tough?

Is this the rule of New Detroit? Throw a rock, then hide your hands? Say something that offends black patrons in a mostly black city, and then walk away when answers are needed?

The only thing Populux had to do was apologize and discipline the person who made the offending tweets, if that’s actually the case – which I suspect it is. (That person is entitled to their opinion anyway, no matter how foolish it is.) They could’ve skipped the obligatory sit-down with community leaders or the on-camera interviews with nosy TV reporters. This whole thing would have just gone away in a week.

Instead, it appears there’s a far too elaborate cover-up for an easily solved situation. But if Populux has something to hide, now we’re all going to be on edge about businesses here in the New Detroit. And we shouldn’t be.

It doesn’t help that many black folks have said for months now that they feel like they don’t belong in certain areas. I’ve talked one on one with many business owners about that feeling many residents have. They know how people feel, so they go above and beyond to welcome anyone who wants to shop, dine, whatever in their trendy, new spots.

It doesn’t help that the actions of a few can unfortunately reflect on the business community as a whole. We’re not talking about a dispute over a cold steak at the Clique or a spat at Punch Bowl Social. We’re talking about how word spreads in Detroit. We’ve always been a word-of-mouth town. Streets talk. And if the streets start saying that Midtown isn’t for us, then what does that do for the all-inclusive message that Midtown is trying to put out?

This is the responsibility all businesses carry when they open up shop in a changing city. And Populux wasn’t ready. Kinda makes you wonder if we brought back a little of Old Detroit, huh?

UPDATE: I talked with a spokeswoman in the FBI's Detroit Division, who says "I cannot confirm there’s an investigation into any Twitter accounts," but that the office would only investigate any tweet if it classifies as a threat. "If it is deemed a possible hate crime, then it could be a federal violation. But if one of your friends did something stupid and logged into your account, we probably wouldn't investigate." So there you have it.

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