Flash Mobs: From Social Media To 'Tsunami Of Kids'

What started as an innocent by-product of kids meeting on Twitter and Facebook has turned into a social experiment gone terribly wrong. A 'Flash Mob' is when teenagers organize a meet-up via social networks and text friends and followers to show up in large numbers at a specified time and place. Philadelphia alone has experienced four flash mobs since December.

Starting out as a viral means to gather large numbers for fun activities such as pillow fights in New York, a snowball fight in DC and even a large assembly of line-dancing to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on the streets of Hong Kong.

In January, at a train station in Liverpool, adults and kids took part in this impromptu T-Mobile dance, where those with the device texted their friends to join in.

Unfortunately, in Philadelphia, this movement has taken a violent turn, resulting in injuries and damage to properties and businesses. While some of the flash-mob teenagers stand around taking pictures, others run through the crowds, assaulting people and damaging property. Not unique to Philly, other flash mobs have been reported this past year in Boston, South Orange, NJ and Brooklyn.

A New York Times report called the phenomenon "part bullying, part running of the bulls" and the Mayor of Philadelphia, beyond public safety is concerned that the publicity will drive away tourists and hurt businesses. Mayor Nutter, who is black, rejected the notion that race or the city's cut in services was a factor.

Seeking out additional security, Philadelphia officials are recruiting help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor social-media networks. TV and radio stations are enlisting the assistance of hip-hop artists who can relate to a teenager's mentality. These artists are being asked to make public service announcements appealing to kids to end the practice.

Improv Everywhere, a flash mob organization whose dramatic events have drawn high profile attention in New York is a great example how flash mobs can be used in a positive way.

Seth KaufmanSeth KaufmanIn the most recent attack in Philly, Seth Kaufman a pizza deliveryman described it as a "tsunami of kids." He lifted his shirt to show gashes along his back and arm. He also had bruises on his forehead he said were from kicks and punches he suffered while trying to keep a rowdy crowd from entering the shop. 

Manuel Gallegus reports on how police are confronting this new mob mentality.

Elijah AndersonElijah AndersonYale sociologist Elijah Anderson, a part-time Philadelphia resident known for his analysis of African American culture is currently writing about 'flash mobs' in a book to come out next year. The gatherings had a "quasi-carnival atmosphere," writes Anderson, calling them a "kind of social storm."

So either out of boredom, too much time on their hands and perhaps lack of parental supervision, this phenomenon may cause additional havoc as the summer approaches. While I don't think social media is the cause, it is the conduit for communicating with a lot of people quickly. And now with location-based features on Twitter and smartphones, its even easier to concentrate on a defined geographical location. Hopefully an end is sight, as I'm sure cities like Philly would much rather be known for their Philly Cheese Steaks than Philly Flash Mobs.