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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THE DARK SIDE OF FLASH MOBS

With the advent of social networking software, young people discovered they could stage group events, mostly for fun or some just plain silly, such as a dance or singing ensemble suddenly bursting into a well choreographed number at a public venue, such as a train station or shopping center. The trick was to get the crowd to quickly assemble, perform its "shtick" and then disappear by mingling back into the crowd. Although the original intent was to have fun, a dark side to flash mobs has emerged.

From the recent overthrow of governments in the Middle East to the recent wildings in Philadelphia, Maryland, and San Francisco, Americans are becoming aware of the power and danger of social networking. In the Middle East, Facebook and Twitter were generally regarded as the communication media of choice to orchestrate massive demonstrations protesting government policies. The application in this country though is different and much more criminal in intent. For example, in Philadelphia and Maryland social networking was recently used to queue crowds to enter and loot stores. The effect was chillingly effective, and would send shivers down the spine of any security officer. In San Francisco, it was used to stage an unlawful demonstration aimed at shutting down the BART rail system, thereby disrupting traffic during rush hour. Such incidents are becoming more commonplace and represent a genuine threat to our well being.

There is little doubt criminal flash mobs will affect our way of life. The best way to thwart such incidents is to block telephone and Internet service which can be done relatively easily. Not only will this disrupt the flash mob though, but other legitimate uses of communication devices as well, perhaps even life sustaining services, such as 911. This is the price we will inevitably have to pay for social media running amok. The use of telephone/Internet blockers will likely face a legal challenge from freedom of speech advocates, but this will probably fail as such freedom doesn't apply in life-threatening situations, such as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Flash mobs will also be detrimental to downtown areas as stores will be closed early to avoid such wildings. Curfews will likely be imposed to maintain law and order, but such security measures will only hurt downtown merchants, hence another reason to abandon urban areas. In all likelihood we will also witness the end of 24/7 service such as provided by late night convenience stores and gas stations. Those stores with the fortitude to remain open will have to be refitted with new security measures, such as instant lock downs trapping the flash mob until authorities can arrive, and communication blockers. The police will also have to become more adept at social media technology so they can identify and apprehend flash mob ringleaders.

Now don't get me wrong, I like social media and have used it for years. However, I realize there are others who have ulterior motives who wish to use it for criminal or political purposes. For those of you old enough to remember, can you imagine what impact this technology would have had at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? As wild and as bloody Chicago was, it would have likely been made much worse by this technology. Some people find flash mobs rather humorous and regard it as nothing more than a passing fad. Make no mistake, there is nothing remotely amusing about criminal flash mobs as they are a genuine threat to our way of life. Ask any merchant or security guard who had the displeasure of facing one. Even sadder, such flash mobs ultimately represents a decline in our culture.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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