Update: Asheville business owner apologizes for anti-Muslim FB rant



Update Nov. 6: Harden has posted an apology to his FB page. Here it is:

I am truly sorry for the statements I made through social media recently that insulted and deeply offended many friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients, people of faith and other nationalities in our community. My statement was inappropriate, unprofessional, insensitive and wrong in all ways.
It was never my intention to upset anyone and I unequivocally apologize to you all. It is my intention never to repeat this error of judgement in the future and I humbly ask for your forgiveness and a second chance to earn your respect.

Original post Oct. 26: Choya Harden of Rely Local Asheville posted an anti-Muslim screed on Facebook Friday, then called it a “social media experiment” after several commenters called him out for the racist comments. Harden’s business specializes in helping small businesses with strategies for Facebook and Twitter, as well as general marketing.

Harden’s post, on his personal FB page, includes the following:

The Quran calls for the death of infidels by the sword. Watched any beheading videos lately? Do you remember 9/11? Have you seen the attacks in the past days in Canada and NYC? THEY ARE AT WAR WITH US!!! I am sick and tired of them. Wak up America, before you wak up in living under the nightmare of Sharia Law….

Commenters began calling out Harden on Twitter:

@barbieangell: not just a social media fail…a humanity fail. MT @PluckyChicken: @Ashevegas Screenshot of @RelyLocalAVL owner’s FB.

@bathroommonkeys: @barbieangell @PluckyChicken @Ashevegas @RelyLocalAVL And he lives in NC. Way too many of those close minded bigots in this state.

@barbieangell: @bathroommonkeys @PluckyChicken @Ashevegas @RelyLocalAVL agreed. i am so dismayed & disappointed. i feel like i can’t trust my judgement.

@PluckyChicken: @barbieangell @bathroommonkeys @Ashevegas @RelyLocalAVL I know. I hope it was just some kind of temporary lapse in A SENSE OF HUMANITY.

Harden responds:

@RelyLocalAVL: FYI You just participated in a social media behavioral experiment 😉 @PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @barbieangell @bathroommonkeys

The commenters aren’t buying it, and have a little back-and-forth with Harden:

@PluckyChicken: @RelyLocalAVL @julieatallah @Ashevegas @barbieangell @bathroommonkeys I call bullshit.

@RelyLocalAVL: Call it all you want @PluckyChicken – See the results on my 3 “posts” from today @julieatallah @Ashevegas @barbieangell @bathroommonkeys

@barbieangell: no @RelyLocalAVL, social media is a tool, not a weapon…& hate isn’t a joke.
@PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys

@RelyLocalAVL: Exploring a hunch people like complaining more than appreciating @PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @barbieangell @bathroommonkeys

@PluckyChicken: @RelyLocalAVL @julieatallah @Ashevegas @barbieangell So you did a social media experiment where you ruined your own reputation? Um, why?

@RelyLocalAVL: I respect your opinion @barbieangell but I used social media to prove a point. @PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys

@barbieangell: if that’s true @RelyLocalAVL, you chose poorly & you seriously hurt our community.
@PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys

@RelyLocalAVL: I don’t accept that statement, I have hurt no one in this community. @barbieangell @PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys

It goes on, and ends with this from Harden:

@RelyLocalAVL: In reality, I have no problem with anyone that can live in peace @PluckyChicken @barbieangell @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys

@RelyLocalAVL: My apologies to non-radical Muslims. Everybody else, thanks @barbieangell @PluckyChicken @julieatallah @Ashevegas @bathroommonkeys @sunra73


Edith December 5, 2014 - 8:29 am

This is complete bs, as I’m reading this whole story now. The guy’s a total liar and idiot. He says in the “apology” that he never meant to upset anyone, but that is exactly what he meant to do with so-called “social experiment”. He’s the one that needs to wake up. As it relates to the small business community, it is news…sad news.

Harry October 28, 2014 - 6:31 pm

Nothing to really worry about with Islam. There are only 350 million (and growing rapidly) radical Muslims, and those who support violent jihad, in the world (according to PEW research). Very small minority, so nothing to be concerned over. These are the few lovely peeps who believe that women have no rights, should be put to death for adultery, and who believe that homosexuals should be executed.

Chris October 29, 2014 - 2:07 pm

I’m pretty sure your numbers are wrong. There is a ton of evidence to show that religion is an increasingly unpopular. People have been so turned off by their angry rhetoric, the bullying, the violence and ignorance, their backward views of women and minorities, the intolerance, the lack of empathy, and their sense of entitlement.

Nope, no one is really is a great rush to be a conservative christian.

Oh, wait. You were talking about Islam.

Harry October 31, 2014 - 4:07 pm

Yet another angry liberal. So full of rage and hate.

dingus November 1, 2014 - 10:22 am

I love it when people try to use this tactic. It’s so transparently inaccurate.

matt November 1, 2014 - 9:38 pm

Harry, the paragon of calm equanimity.

Voltro October 30, 2014 - 4:51 pm

‘Religion is just an excuse for people to be extremely crappy to one another’ – Dave Lister, Technician 3rd Class

cwaster October 28, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Hey you know, the guy has a right to show everyone who he is publicly. If he wants to excercise free speech and let everyone know he’s a bigot and handles social media poorly, he can do that in this country. As the saying goes: If someone tells you who they are, believe them.

Adrian M. October 28, 2014 - 1:29 pm

WTF? This is considered NEWS now? A guy posts something to his private Facebook page, somebody calls him out on his business Twitter page to start a public fight. He responds. Wow…

What’s next, AshVegas – private texts between the mayor and his wife?


Big Al October 30, 2014 - 12:37 pm

Don’t you mean “between the Mayor and HER wife”?

Steve Johnson October 27, 2014 - 10:25 pm

Fact is if post something on FB, personal or not, you will be held accountable by those who read it. If you are running an experiment where you are going to play with fire, then you need to be conscious of the fact that once you let the so called experiment out of the bag, then you will not be able to control the ‘reactions’. There is a simple rule in the digital realm, if you don’t think it, or if you are playing with sarcasm by using verbal tones, you are better to not make the statement. By claiming to be running an experiment, he makes himself look like a moron, or spineless, unless he details exactly what that experiment was. I didn’t see any mention of what he was trying to do with his experiment? Was he attempting to determine of the old saying goes…”the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about..” I also think that people who hide behind the notion of free speech, as if they aren’t entitled to say what they want BECA– — USE people react to it…You can say whatever you want. That is free speech. Just as the reactions to your speech are as equally free. In reality, as a small business owner in Asheville, I can say without too much hesitation, his experiment had the effect of chilling me to utilizing his company and that service. End of story. It comes down to another old saying…if there is any doubt, then there is no doubt.

D. Dial October 27, 2014 - 6:25 pm

This guy’s a “social media” consultant? This is a lesson in what not to do on social media.

TammySLC October 27, 2014 - 5:57 pm

Oh please, Jason Sandford! Get over yourself. Do you really want to make a news story out of picking on somebody for their own stupid post on their personal Facebook page? How would you like someone else to crawl through your social media profiles and…

Oh, wait – we don’t have to! We can just check out this “news story” where you single out a local business owner and attack them for exercising their right to free speech! Congrats! You are worse than Mr. Harden, you bully!

Astounded October 28, 2014 - 1:12 am

Your stupidity is astounding. Freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want, like this ignorant bigot did. And then everyone else gets to exercise their first amendment right to call them out for being an ignorant bigot.

GrowUp October 27, 2014 - 5:50 pm

A general note to the author of this “article” (aka attack). Islam is not a race, but a religion. Duh.

Stop calling them “racist” comments!!!

AVLNative October 27, 2014 - 5:48 pm

1. Is he an idiot? Sure…maybe.

2. Was this on his personal profile? Yes.

3. Does the author of this article have some sort of personal vendetta against Mr. Harden? Obviously.

4. Is this really newsworthy? Come on.

5. Can we all get on with our lives now? Please?

AVL LVR October 27, 2014 - 11:31 am

Muslim immigration is an unnecessary security threat. Islam is a violent terrorist religion. Moderate Muslim don’t practice their religion. It’s amazing people try to use the race card until I tell them I am part Arab. I know a lot of peaceful Muslims, but the threat for violence is always there as long as the Koran is there. I think Islam has really given Arabs a bad name. Too bad we couldn’t rescue them from themselves.

AVL LVR October 27, 2014 - 12:08 pm

Some of us really care about Asheville and our country. We’d rather it not turn into suicide bombings and beheadings. People who are politically correct on this issue demonstrate a profound ignorance of Mohammed’s violent and perverted life and fail to understand what Islam is capable of. I have relatives in Syria so I know what is going on.

From Hadith about Mohammed’s youngest wife:

“Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).” —Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:62:64)

smytty October 27, 2014 - 12:45 pm

Right, and there’s absolutely nothing odd, graphic, violent, or perverted in the Bible.

luther blissett October 27, 2014 - 4:54 pm

Some of us really care about Asheville. We’d rather it not turn into clown massacres, zombie invasions and bigot volcanoes. We know what’s going on with you, LVR.

I know a lot of peaceful gun owners, but the threat for violence is always there as long as the NRA is there.

AVL LVR October 27, 2014 - 6:04 pm

I never fired a gun in my life and don’t plan to.

I do think it is impossible to stop Muslim immigration. The best thing to do is to limit it, promote a liberal non-literal interpretation of Islam, and to pressure Muslim countries to moderate their stance. We’ve turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s oppression of women and other religions too long. Why? For oil?

Smytty October 27, 2014 - 7:05 pm

Sure – where in the Constitution does it say anything about freedom of religion?

LEW October 27, 2014 - 10:11 am

@RelyLocalAVL says “I don’t accept that statement, I have hurt no one in this community.” There are actually very good folks living in our community who happen to be Muslim. So yes, you have hurt people in the community.

TammySLC October 27, 2014 - 5:59 pm

On the other hand, it’s the author of this article that doesn’t know the difference between a religion (Islam) and a race (???) – thereby showing his own ignorance of the issue by stating that these were “racist” comments… Stay class, Sandford.

blue dozen October 26, 2014 - 9:15 pm

in all honesty, the dude is entitled to his opinion and he has the right to post said opinion on any social media outlet he chooses.

unfortunately, his choice of words (and sentiment, really) leaves a little something to be desired. when you view this miscue from the lens of his business, it’s a recipe for – if not disaster – a lot of back peddling – and you have a really, really hard time un-saying something that makes you look like an oaf. when your market and your clientele are on the platform where you inserted your foot into your mouth, you’re going to find that a lot of potential suitors behave like rats on a sinking ship.

i’m not especially gentle (or genteel) in a lot of my social media postings, but i try to at least filter my hubris when it comes to my business or the folks that i rely on to keep my business afloat. i can come across as a jackass – but i know when to shut my trap.

mister harden let the trap open, and this came out. unfortunate for him. likely unfortunate for his business.

as to his statement (which, i’m quite positive was NOT an “experiment,) i’ve learned enough on the facebook to know to keep my feet far away from my maw – i’ll let that opinion be for me and my buddies when we go for coffee. not gonna type it here. it’s likely uninteresting anyway, but you say something on the interwebs, it can be used against you.

“experimenting” on facebook is a fools errand. you’re talking to “friends” – not the public. if you’re experimenting on your friends, you need to reconsider your use of social media.

if you’re “experimenting” on the public, that’s not the forum. facebook is so far removed from reality that you may as well “experiment” on roaming packs of drunken chickens. the info you glean from either group would be roughly equivalent.

mr. harden – i feel for you, bro. you’re in a bad situation. making excuses will make it worse. just say “i screwed up, sorry” and move on along.

Pat Farris October 26, 2014 - 3:29 pm

perhaps we should ban all religions as they are obviously dangerous and illogical

Skeptical October 26, 2014 - 3:24 pm

I read Mr. Harden’s posts and a couple of articles about them.

According to Mr. Harden the purpose of the three posts were to see if people on Facebook reacted to positive or negative posts.

One post was of an average tree not quite in all its fall splendor, another was an unappetizing photo of some Chinese food, neither post clearly engaged many of his readers. His third post the outrageous post above.

And as no surprise to anyone who has ever read Facebook the negative post got a lot of responses and even press coverage.

I would say to Mr. Harden the point you proved is not the one you say you proved. As I believe you know, if you want to engage customers or followers on any social media outlet, you need to post content that will engage them. It is not about negative or positive content it is about engagement.

The only thing your “experiment” proved is :

1. Your FB audience is not interested in boring pictures of trees.
2. Your audience recognizes, there are no good Chinese restaurants in Asheville, therefore they did not respond.
3. Asheville is full of people who will if you post some hateful crap, will call you on it!

I think Mr Harden’s poor attempts to cover his tracks is another good social experiment. If I post hateful crap and then pretend it’s a ‘social experiment” will people believe my BS.

I don’t think we have an answer to that yet… but I think the people of Asheville are smarter than that!

Pineapple October 26, 2014 - 12:07 pm

This (marketing??) company should by now be completely discredited…in the past (and maybe still now) they have employed a man who has harassed and stalked local women.

JT October 27, 2014 - 11:33 am

Whoa I hadn’t made that connection yet! I got a very creepy vibe from that dude and I’m a grown-ass man.
I always thought there was something fishy with RelyLocalAVL and I’m glad Choya showed his ass in public.

smytty October 27, 2014 - 12:42 pm

I always found it odd that “RelyLocal” is actually a chain or a franchise. A bit of irony there.

jared rutledge October 26, 2014 - 12:07 pm

I think we’ve reached a really critical point as Americans with things like this. We need to decide whether we believe in the language of right and wrong, or are we merely going to say “humanity fail” or “it hurt our community.”

We’ve been taking the latter approach, but I think it’s much more productive to say that, in fact, Mr. Harden’s opinions are wrong. No one is debating that ISIS is evil. It’s also true that the majority of Muslims could be much more vocal in speaking out against the radical fringe and stopping the violence and misogyny. In fact, many Muslim clerics have called for exactly that, only to be ignored by the Western media.

But Mr. Harden is wrong not because he’s a failure as a human being – it’s pure arrogance to claim anything of the sort. He’s wrong not because he’s hurting our community – Facebook posts seem to have zero influence on the actual state of the world. He’s wrong because he’s posting a simplified opinion that doesn’t line up with the facts of a very complex global reality. For that, he should be roundly critiqued by people who know much more about the situation that he does.

Mr. Harden doesn’t owe anyone an apology, because he didn’t hurt anyone. ISIS is, in fact, hurting people. If you want to say that they’re failing humanity, a case can be made. Mr. Harden posted an unfounded emotional statement that isn’t backed up by facts or logic. The only debt he owes is to himself, to educate himself on the nuances of a multifaceted conflict. He also might be well served making a few Muslim friends.

I think if Mr. Harden educated himself and tried to build solid arguments for his above statements, he might find that the problem isn’t Islam. It’s that for as long as we’ve been walking upright, we’ve tended to be really mean to each other. Humankind mostly acts according to the precepts of power, violence, and greed. That’s the real humanity fail.

Matt Barlow October 26, 2014 - 12:11 pm


Bill C. October 27, 2014 - 5:46 am

Well said Jared.

smytty October 27, 2014 - 12:51 pm

I agree with most of your post, but I would also say that just because no one was physically assaulted doesn’t mean that people can’t point out that he’s either rude or a moron for stating something like that in a public forum and then trying to pretend it was an experiment.

I do give him props for trying to backpeddle and distance himself from his comments, but really, as a self-identified social media expert, it reeks of an ignorance of how social media works. I wouldn’t work with him – partly because I have no interest in affiliating my business with someone attached to this sort of mess, but also partly because he doesn’t sound like he’s very good at his job.

nick guy October 26, 2014 - 12:05 pm

LULZ yeah a social media strategist… what a fool!

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