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Project X Haren was an open Facebook event unintentionally organized by Dutch teenager Merthe Weusthuis for her sixteenth birthday party, which ended up attracting tens of thousands of people to show up in Weusthuis’ hometown of Haren, the Netherlands on September 21st, 2012. While comparable to other flash mob birthday events like Kate’s Birthday or William Lashua’s Birthday, Weusthuis’s birthday party resulted in riots, looting and at least 30 arrests, simliar to the mayhem that ensued during Corey Worthington’s party in January 2008.
It all began when the Dutch teenager Merthe Weusthuis accidentally sent out a Facebook invitation for her birthday party to open public instead of family and friends only. The original creation date of Weusthuis’ Facebook event page remains unknown, however, the Twitter hashtag #ProjectXHaren began appearing online as early as September 16th, 2012. In the span of a week, the Facebook page accrued at least 30,000 RSVPs an the Twitter hashtag was used nearly 41,000 times. The rumors of the party also spread via the Twitter hashtag #Merthe, with a flyer initially shared on lifestyle blog Melf.
On September 19th, a “teaser trailer” for the party was uploaded via YouTube, gaining more than 36,000 views in five days. The same day, a Facebook group for the party was created after police from the city of Haren wrote on the wall of the Facebook event requesting that people not attend the party.
The event was given the nickname “Project X Haren” after the 2012 comedy film Project X, which depicts a group of three friends’ attempt at becoming cool by throwing a party that quickly spirals out of control.
September 21st: The Party
The day before the planned party, the first reports of the event began appearing on English-language news sites, including CNN iReport and international news agency AFP. On the morning of the event, Haren officials removed street signs, closed off roads and banned alcohol at the local train station in preparation for the possible influx of thousands of people. When an estimate of 3,000 to 5,000 people arrived in Haren, Merthe Weusthuis and her family reportedly went into hiding for safety reasons.
The event was streamed live from the town of Haren, where it took a violent turn as rioters began moving the party to the center of town, vandalizing and looting stores, overturning cars, damaging street signs and starting fires. On Twitter, there were even reports of journalists getting assaulted by the crowds, though this report was never corroborated by evidence. However, at least eight people sustained injuries at the scene.
Following the events of the evening, another Facebook group called Project Clean-X Haren was created with a mission to organize a clean-up for the mess left by rioters in the area. Within three days, the group gained more than 33,000 likes.
September 22nd: Aftermath
The day after the riot, Project X Haren was covered by a variety of news sites and internet culture blogs including the BBC, CBS This Morning, the Telegraph, CNN and Gawker. On September 24th, DutchNews.nl reported that 35 rioters had been arrested, with 50 residents of the town reporting property damage. The same day, a Facebook page called Suspect-X Haren was also created to share media from the event to help the police with identifying and arresting rioters, which had gathered over 8000 likes by September 26th.
September 23rd and Following
In the days following to the event, residents, insurance companies and other parties were finally able to assess the total damage, adding up to in the millions. Through Twitter and Facebook, the police was able to trace and arrest multiple people trying to organise Project X events in other cities such as Uden and Schiedam. Similary, a Project X Amsterdam to take place on October 16th was cancelled after multiple replies to the event contained messages calling up for riots and vandalism, which was already sent to over 9000 people and replied to around 500 times before cancellation.
Many rioters also turned themselves during the following days at the police, many which were under the guidance of their parents. Similar to this, the police also received over 2 gigabytes of picture and video material from the event, most coming from people who were at the event filming the happenings with their mobile phones. The making public of this material helped the police to identify and arrest over 50 more people after a stream of tips started flowing in about the identities of the rioters. Multiple news sources who were filming the event also helped by making material public (shown below).
Algemeen Dagblad – "Zeven arrestaties na oproep ‘Project X’ in Schiedam ":http://www.ad.nl/ad/nl/11474/Facebookrellen/article/detail/3320788/2012/09/22/Arrestaties-in-Schiedam-bij-Project-X.dhtml