Flash Media

A couple of years ago one of the most popular videos on the Internet was of people dancing in the Antwerp, Belgium main train station.  In what was obviously a staged event, hundreds of people appeared to begin spontaneously dancing to the “Sound of Music” song, “Do, Re, Mi.”  The video has been viewed on You Tube alone more than 2-million times.

Since then there have been dozens if not hundreds of what are now called “flash mob” events, usually videoed and posted on various web sites.  The latest incarnation is a television commercial in which a lone dancer starts his performance, only to be notified via his slow cell phone that the event has been postponed.

These events almost always elicit smiles, and many go viral:  spread around the world in a matter of hours by thousands of viewers.

But a new flash mob video has gone viral, and it has police concerned, not necessarily about the images, but about how technology was used to get the mob started in the first place.

In Germantown, Maryland, last week, social networking technology was apparently used to gather a mob consisting of dozens of juvenile delinquents who descended on a convenience store, and then proceeded to steal hundreds of dollars of merchandise.  There have also been reports from dozens of other communities of mobs robbing stores and attacking people.  In many cases, say police, social networks were used to organize the violence.

Police in London say messaging sites were used to organize the mobs that terrorized the city for more than a week.

Now, law enforcement agencies are wondering how flash mobs have gone from fun to frightening, and if there is any way to combat them. The problem, of course, is not in the technology, but in the behavior.  Every new technology has generated social change, some good, some bad.  The problem here, as usual, is not cell phones or the Internet.  The problem is hoodlums and delinquents and their criminal behavior.  And that’s where the control needs to be.

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