Flash Mobs – Evidence of the Power in Mass Media

// Posted by on 01/14/2012 (1:03 PM)

I was very interested in the “Crowd Control” article in WIRED. The article describes how flash mobs are organized through mass media via text messaging, twitter and other personal messaging mediums. Flash mobs can swiftly be organized in a matter of minutes because of this communication style. These types of mobs can be both playful and dangerous as people gather for a variety of reasons, such as a group dance or a riot (I prefer dance flash mobs so I have attached a video of one). It is impressive how wide the message can be spread in such a short amount of time.

^Above is an example of Flash Mobs that have become popular around the world. Large groups of people get together and spontaneously break out in dance after the rehearse in private outside of the public location. Again, this is organized through mass media using websites, emails and text messaging. Certain websites allow you to put yourself on a waiting list for future Flash Mobs where they will contact you to be a performer.

I am from Kansas City and my parents were at the Country Club Plaza, the site of a flash mob, in April 2011. They were sitting outside on a patio of dinner when the riot began. According to them it took only a matter of minutes for the streets to be swarmed by hundreds of teens. Every store and restaurant was taken over by the teen mob. It had all been planned through a massive text message that was only a sentence long. Police gathered on the streets on horseback and were unable to control the group. Since they did not know how to manage the text messaging they decided to place a new curfew for minors in the area. Authorities in the area were shocked at how they were unable to control the riot and the mass media used by the teens put them in charge of the scene.

In Peter’s essay on Mass Media he explains how media has historically been controlled by those in power and can be bought over by the elite. Peter’s explains this saying that “ where mass media are, there is usually power. Kings have always jealously controlled the right to production and multiplication” (277). He also argues that different powers prefer different types of media. I believe that in our new digital world the power is slipping from these “kings” and has become more distributed amongst the general public. It is harder to manage and limit and the public is finding ways to take advantage of various mediums to spread the message without being censored by the powers at large. By increasing the access to these media sources more people can take advantage of them -- this is minimizing the control that one elite power can have over the media. Text messaging, BBM, emails and tweets are difficult to track and make it hard for powers at large to prevent communication amongst the masses.

The expansion of flash mobs is a perfect example of this. Text messaging cannot be censored the way that the internet can be. As the article in WIRED mentions, most of these group assemblies are organized through mass messaging used on Blackberries and other smart phones. This is harder to trace, making it difficult for authorities to stop group riots. By the time the message is sent and the group forms the police have had no time to prepare and the ability to prevent these groups is impossible. In this sense this type of mass media is both liberating for the public but has dangerous implications as well.

Another article I read highlights how more teen mobs have been organized through the use of Twitter. The capabilities of these social networks are enabling people to connect without the supervision of governments. The news of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination was spread around the world through Twitter, as people on scene were able to relay messages the word instantly. WIRED explains it also spurred the riots in the UK and Egypt, further evidence that these mediums are promoting group messaging and contact. TIME magazines person of the year for 2011 was the protestor. I think that part of the reason that this is true for today is that the public is finding a new voice through the liberties in mass media through text messaging, twitter and other social networking outlets. All of this is minimizing the divide between those in control and the lay public and redistributing the power.

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Kelsey said...

All of this information and widespread technology with which to access it seems to put everyone an even playing field. As this age of mass communication continues and the gap between those in control and those in the lay public closes I wonder if the two groups will merge into one group that operates via the feedback from all citizens or just one big mess of people struggling for some kind of control.

// 01/15/2012 at 5:04 pm

Phylicia said...

Not only does social media allow individuals and groups to organize without the government or an overarching association, but it also forces those in authority to become accountable. Social media such as YouTube and Facebook reveal the actions of those in authority to not only the general public, but to the world through video taken from cell phones, video cameras, etc. These media make it quick AND easy to place culpability on authorities. This is a crucial reason why the Arab Spring spread like wildfire. Check out this preview of the documentary—How Facebook Changed the World @ httpv://

// 01/16/2012 at 10:25 pm

Cameron said...

It is definitely interesting to see how social media continues to shape the world around us. People are using it not solely for the reasons it was intended for, but are using it to organize protests and bring people together. While it can bring people together for good, it can also bring people together quicker than allows for police to prepare and can often lead to dangerous situations. It makes me wonder how situations such as these can be handled. You mentioned the one area that now has a curfew to prevent young people from coming together late at night again, but are there other ways to respond? Is there some way to be proactive to protect people in communities such as this one or must the authorities simply react after something has already happened?

// 01/16/2012 at 11:42 pm

Allison said...

While I agree that power has become more accessible to the general public through social media, I do think it takes some authority or leadership to reach greater masses. For example, Ashton Kutcher tweeted 30 minute ago about an opportunity to intern in Africa through Chegg and ONE Campaign. Through Ashton Kutcher’s endorsement, this opportunity is being heard by infinitely more people than if I tweeted about it. People reading his tweet are more likely to take the time to read about the opportunity than if I did.. So while I agree that mass media gives us all a little more power, I do think that the greatest power still lies in the hands of those with grand audiences.

// 01/17/2012 at 3:41 pm

Roman said...

This really is an issue I need to find more information about, appreciate the posting.

// 01/29/2012 at 3:23 am