There’s no controlling the flash

There’s a quaint story in today’s Guardian revealing the futility of government attempts to control speech and assembly.

Police in Leeds are hoping to prevent an outbreak of internet-enabled mayhem after thousands were invited to a public pillow fight through Facebook. . . .

A police spokesman said yesterday: “We have contacted the alleged organiser regarding this event and advised him to cancel it. We will be monitoring the situation to ensure that it does not take place. Any such events, especially those potentially involving large numbers of people, must be given the proper licence by the council in advance.”

There’s the funny bit: a flashmob license.

I understand their desire. The story says that a flash water fight caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to a park in the city. And there’s no means for the organizers to organize a crowd once it is amassed.

Still, it’s a futile effort. Mobs can form instantly via Facebook and Twitter and there’s no telling who the organizer is because they won’t necessarily have an organizer. Welcome to the dispersed, distributed society. Mobs, by their definition, can’t be controlled.

  • Pingback: Flashmobs im Social Age « Mjays Planet()

  • Brian Robinson


    You are right, you can’t control a mob. And, to authorities, there might be no difference between controlling mobs and more legitimate reasons for calling a crowd of people together, such as a political protest.

    But what happens when someone calls a mob together for the purposes of actual. physical mayhem? What happens when the first people start dying from these Internet-based mob events? Is it alright for the Internet to collectively just shrug its shoulders?

  • But are they really instant? The very existence of a facebook group – i.e. a planning process – means that they’re not. Perhaps an all too common case of not being able to spot old people in new clothes?

  • After 2004, ( )San Luis Obispo, CA officials have worked hard to ‘party-poop’ anything happening on Mardi Gras… this year they were confronted by “a Facebook Web page inviting revelers to the city” and squelched it pretty easily. ( ) Maybe the local authorities know something others don’t… or maybe the Flash Mob fizzled out on its own. But a lot of local cops worked overtime on Fat Tuesday anyway.

  • I’m quite certain most governments are hard at work on methods and means to separate people from their social networks, and social media tools, BEFORE flash mobs ever get started.

  • Zac R

    Brian Robinson & Jeff: It will no doubt warm you to learn that football hooligans have been using the internet to coordinate fights with rival “firms” for years! I doubt they use Twitter, tho.