Flash mobs started in the early 2000s as fun, peaceful and seemingly spontaneous public performance organized through social media and technology (see, for instance, this Hammer Time arrangement at a store in LA or this performance of the Hallelujah Chorus in a mall food court).  Unfortunately, flash mobs have shown a darker side recently, being exploited by criminals and teens with ill intent.  As one columnist commented, “what appealed to adventurous fun, now appeals to disenfranchised anger or boredom”.

In a Cleveland suburb on July 4th, for example, as reported by the AP, “as many as 1,000 teenagers, mobilized through social networking sites, turned out and soon started fighting, disrupting the neighborhood firework display.  Earlier this month, Britain was racked by several nights of rioting as youths used Twitter, smartphones, BlackBerries and Instant Messaging to mobilize.”  Earlier this summer, several dozen youths organized through social networking to loot a Sears store in Philly.  The size and speed of these “flash mob robberies” and other incidents highlight the almost instantaneous and almost anonymous nature of tech-fueled crime today.  As columnist Mitch Albom commented this month, “the world is going so much faster now, snap decisions, snap judgments, snap riots, snap coverage.  We are teaching dangerous, subtle messages, that we can see everything in an instant, know everything in an instant, have an opinion on everything in an instant.  With that, inevitable, comes desire for everything in an instant—including mayhem, violent thrills or whatever products [or pleasure] you don’t have but could loot or access.  The 21st-Century mob.  Assembled in the time it takes to make a sandwich.”

So, while social media and the free flow of information can be used for incredible good, it can also be used for ill.  Parents and kids should be aware that, while these mobs can appear to be instantaneous and somewhat anonymous, a great deal of participants brag about their participation or use their real online identities to promote or post flash mob information, which authorities could use to target flash mob criminals.

This is just another reason why it’s so important for parents to be aware of their kids’ online activities and friends, and why parents should consider use monitoring software and parental controls on their Internet-connected devices so they can track whether their kids are getting caught up in any dangerous online, and offline activities (we recommend Safe Eyes).  Also, consider highlighting the good, fun uses of technology and encourage your kids to use the Internet to pursue fun, exciting, safe and legal activities through social media.