Who Put the ‘Flash Mob’ in Flash Mob Robberies?
Flash mob robberies are on the rise throughout the nation, with swarms of youths cropping up in major retail stores to swipe items under the protection and anonymity of a group.
As explained in his 2009 book, And Then There’s This, Bill Wasik began a relatively harmless experiment, which he called the “Mob Project,” resulting in his credit for coining the term “flash mob.” Based on the bandwagon effect, his original intent for exploiting the flash mob idea was to explore “the intersection of the virtual and the physical…as a way to make online connections manifest themselves visually, corporeally, disruptively in the sidewalks and spaces of urban life.” But as the project grew, his interest veered towards the steep rise and fall of the media narrative about the flash mob phenomenon. Seven years after the idea’s inception, the story is experiencing its newest peak.
These flash robs or flash mobberies, if you will, have been organized by young teenagers with the aid of various social media outlets. How does it work? Someone will select a time and place, distribute the information through text messaging, Twitter or Facebook, and the group will enter the store in a mob, grabbing what they want. Executing this task with a group of accomplices prevents those stealing from being caught by onlookers or security cameras.
The most recent incident occurred a few weeks ago in Streeterville, Chicago, where a group of 15-20 teenagers staged a violently robbery, nabbing a man’s cell phone and camera. Various flash mob robberies have occurred in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and Minnesota, often involving the same number of teenaged participants.
Wasik naturally shied away from claiming responsibility for spreading the flash mob mentality this far: “It’s hard for me to believe that these kids saw some YouTube video of people Christmas caroling in a food court, and said, ‘Hey, we should do that, except as a robbery!’ More likely, they stumbled on the simple realization (like I did back in 2003, but like lots of other people had before and have since) that one consequence of all this technology is that you can coordinate a ton of people to show up in the same place at the same time.”
The method of organization for these robberies is strikingly similar to the one Wasik used for his harmless experiment. Although, it doesn’t seem that any of the criminals used the term “flash mob” in association with these thefts, rather, the media appropriately slapped the term onto this string of communal crimes.
Chicago, in particular, is receiving a good deal of attention for having a high concentration of these flash mobberies. Ald. Brendan Reilly spoke to the Chicago Sun Times, describing flash mob robberies as a “new brand of retail theft” that’s highly coordinated by adult criminals who recruit juveniles to do their dirty work.
When it comes to operating with technology, youths will be in high demand. Efforts should be focused on using technology productively, not for committing crimes. For all the good they do us, there will always be ways to use powerful tools and innovative ideas for adverse purposes.
Hopefully the next spike of interest in the ‘flash mob’ strategy will be generated with a more positive connotation.
Picture taken from www.2jwt.com
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