Flash Mobs – Evidence of the Power in Mass Media
// Posted by Natalie 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.