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Flash mob


Flash mob

Flash mobs, like this pillow fight flash mob in Downtown Toronto (2005), are designed to surprise passers-by.

A flash mob or flashmob[1] is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place and perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time before quickly dispersing. They are often used for the purposes of entertainment, satire or artistic expression[2][3][4] and are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.[5][6][7][8][9]

There is some question as to whether the term, coined in 2003, is applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals.[7][10][11] In these cases of a planned purpose for the social activity in question, the term smart mobs is often applied instead.

The term "flash rob" or "flash mob robberies", a reference to the way flash mobs assemble, has been used to describe a number of robberies and assaults perpetrated suddenly by groups of teenage youth.[12][13][14] Bill Wasik, originator of the first flash mobs, and a number of other commentators have questioned or objected to the usage of "flash mob" to describe criminal acts,[14][15] however, in a few reported cases, flash mobs have turned violent or led to criminal activity.[16][17]


  • History 1
    • First flash mob 1.1
    • Precedents and precursors 1.2
  • Use of the term 2
  • Legality 3
  • Crime 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


First flash mob

Flash mobbing was quickly imitated outside of the United States. This picture is of "sydmob", the first flash mob held in Sydney, Australia

The first flash mobs were created in Manhattan in 2003, by Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper's Magazine.[7][9][18] The first attempt was unsuccessful after the targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan for people to gather.[19] Wasik avoided such problems during the first successful flash mob, which occurred on 17 June 2003 at Macy's department store, by sending participants to preliminary staging areas—in four Manhattan bars—where they received further instructions about the ultimate event and location just before the event began.[20]

More than 130 people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of the store, gathering around an expensive rug. Anyone approached by a sales assistant was advised to say that the gatherers lived together in a warehouse on the outskirts of New York, that they were shopping for a "love rug", and that they made all their purchase decisions as a group.[21] Subsequently, 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel in synchronized applause for about 15 seconds, and a shoe boutique in SoHo was invaded by participants pretending to be tourists on a bus trip.[9]

Wasik claimed that he created flash mobs as a social experiment designed to poke fun at hipsters and to highlight the cultural atmosphere of conformity and of wanting to be an insider or part of "the next big thing".[9] The Vancouver Sun wrote, "It may have backfired on him ... [Wasik] may instead have ended up giving conformity a vehicle that allowed it to appear nonconforming."[22] In another interview he said, "the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could".[23]

Precedents and precursors

In 19th-century Tasmania, the term flash mob was used to describe a subculture consisting of female prisoners, based on the term flash language for the jargon that these women used. The 19th-century Australian term flash mob referred to a segment of society, not an event, and showed no other similarities to the modern term flash mob or the events it describes.[24]

In 1973, the story "Flash Crowd" by Larry Niven described a concept similar to flash mobs.[25] With the invention of popular and very inexpensive teleportation, an argument at a shopping mall—which happens to be covered by a news crew—quickly swells into a riot. In the story, broadcast coverage attracts the attention of other people, who use the widely available technology of the teleportation booth to swarm first that event—thus intensifying the riot—and then other events as they happen. Commenting on the social impact of such mobs, one character (articulating the police view) says, "We call them flash crowds, and we watch for them." In related short stories, they are named as a prime location for illegal activities (such as pickpocketing and looting) to take place.

Flash mobs began as a form of performance art.[19] While they started as an apolitical act, flash mobs may share superficial similarities to political demonstrations. In the 1960s, groups such as the Yippies used street theatre to expose the public to political issues.[26] Flash mobs can be seen as a specialized form of smart mob,[7] a term and concept proposed by author Howard Rheingold in his 2002 book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.[27]

Use of the term

The first documented use of the term flash mob as it is understood today was in 2003 in a blog entry posted in the aftermath of Wasik's event.[18][20][28][29] The term was inspired by the earlier term smart mob.[28]

Flash mob was added to the 11th edition of the [31] This definition is consistent with the original use of the term; however, both news media and promoters have subsequently used the term to refer to any form of smart mob, including political protests;[32] a collaborative Internet denial of service attack;[33] a collaborative supercomputing demonstration;[34] and promotional appearances by pop musicians.[35] The press has also used the term flash mob to refer to a practice in China where groups of shoppers arrange online to meet at a store in order to drive a collective bargain.[36]


The city of (silent disco) at railway stations".[39][40]


Referred to as flash robs, flash mob robberies, or flash robberies by the media, crimes organized by teenage youth using social media rose to international notoriety beginning in 2011.[12][13][14][41] The [44]

The Huffington Post raised the question asking if "the media was responsible for stirring things up", and added that in some cases the local authorities did not confirm the use of social media making the "use of the term flash mob questionable."[15] Amanda Walgrove wrote that criminals involved in such activities don't refer to themselves as "flash mobs", but that this use of the term is nonetheless appropriate.[45] Jeff Gardere theorized the motivations for flash robs stemmed from discontent and bored youth.[46]

See also


  1. ^ "Facebook flashmob shuts down station".  
  2. ^ "Va-va-voom is in the dictionary". BBC. 8 July 2004. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "definition of flash mob from Oxford English Dictionaries Online".  
  4. ^ "Mixed feelings over Philadelphia's flash-mob curfew". BBC. 12 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Athavaley, Anjali (15 April 2008). "Students Unleash A Pillow Fight On Manhattan". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  6. ^ Fitzgerald, Sean D. (21 March 2008). "International Pillow Fight Day: Let the feathers fly!". National Post (Canada). Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c d Judith A. Nicholson. "Flash! Mobs in the Age of Mobile Connectivity". Fibreculture Publications/Open Humanities Press. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  8. ^ "Time Freezes in Central London".  
  9. ^ a b c d Sandra Shmueli (8 August 2003). Flash mob' craze spreads"'". CNN. 
  10. ^ "Manifestul Aglomerarilor Spontane / A Flashmob Manifesto". 5 December 2004. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  11. ^ Ed Fletcher (23 December 2010). "Failed choral 'flash mob' may not have qualified for term". Toronto Star. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  12. ^ a b Annie Vaughan (18 June 2011). "Teenage Flash Mob Robberies on the Rise".  
  13. ^ a b Erin Skarda (12 May 2011). "Flash Mobs Turned Criminal: The Rise of Flash Robberies".  
  14. ^ a b c Bill Wasik (11 November 2011). "‘Flash Robs’: Trying to Stop a Meme Gone Wrong".  
  15. ^ a b Flash Mob' Attacks Used By Gun Rights Advocates To Build Concealed Carry Support"'".  
  16. ^ Sheehan, Kevin; Velez, Natasha; O'Neill, Natalie (27 December 2013). "Hundreds of teens trash mall in wild flash mob". The New York Post. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  17. ^ Haimy Assefa (29 December 2013). "Mob of teens overruns mall in Brooklyn".  
  18. ^ a b Wasik, Bill (January 2012). "#Riot: Self-Organized, Hyper-Networked Revolts—Coming to a City Near You".  
  19. ^ a b Goldstein, Lauren (10 August 2003). "The Mob Rules".  
  20. ^ a b Wasik, Bill (March 2006). "My Crowd, or, Phase 5: A report from the inventor of the flash mob" (Subscription).  
  21. ^ Bedell, Doug. "E-mail Communication Facilitates New 'Flash Mob' Phenomenon", Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, 23 July, (2003)
  22. ^ McMartin, Pete (12 July 2008). "Waterfight in Stanley Park, but are flash mobs starting to lose their edge?".  
  23. ^ Ian Urbina (24 March 2010). "Mobs Are Born as Word Grows by Text Message". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  24. ^ "The Flash Mob". Cascades Female Factory Historic Site. Female Factory Historic Site Ltd. Archived from the original on 6 October 2007. Retrieved 23 October 2007. 
  25. ^ Nold, Christian (2003). "Legible Mob". p. 23.
  26. ^ Cosmic Trigger III, Robert Anton Wilson, 1995, New Falcon Publications
  27. ^ Chris Taylor (3 March 2003). "Day of the smart mobs". CNN. 
  28. ^ a b  
  29. ^ Savage, Sean (16 June 2003). "Flash Mobs Take Manhattan". cheesebikini. Retrieved 14 March 2007. 
  30. ^ "Henry inspires English dictionary". BBC. 8 July 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  31. ^ "flash mob". Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.6). Retrieved 27 April 2007. 
  32. ^ "Putin protest by flash mob". BBC News. 28 February 2004. Retrieved 3 May 2007. 
  33. ^ Musil, Steven (11 February 2005). "This week in Web threats: The Internet is always good for a little fear and loathing". CNET News ( 
  34. ^ Biever, Celeste (29 March 2004). "A Flash mob to attempt supercomputing feat".  
  35. ^ Gardner, Elysa (27 February 2004). "Avril Lavigne, in the flesh, at 'flash mob' appearances". USA Today. Retrieved 3 May 2007. 
  36. ^ "'"China's new shopping craze: 'Team buying.  
  37. ^ "Flash mobs banned in Braunschweig". The Local Europe. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  38. ^ Robert Leigh (19 May 2008). "Videos: Police step in to prevent Facebook flash mob events". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  39. ^ "Rail police criticise flash mobs". BBC News. 26 February 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  40. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (15 November 2012). "'Big Bang Theory' Cast Surprises Showrunners With 'Call Me Maybe' Flash Mob (Video)". The Hollywood Reporter.
  41. ^ Daniel Denvir (26 September 2011). "Are Violent 'Flash Mobs' Really a Trend?". CityLab. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  42. ^ Jeffrey Ian Ross (2013). Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America. Sage Publications.  
  43. ^ a b "Multiple Offender Crimes" (PDF).  
  44. ^ Leary, Mark. "Why People Take Part in Violent Flash Mobs". Duke University News and Communications. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  45. ^ a b Amanda Walgrove (20 June 2011). "Who Put the ‘Flash Mob’ in Flash Mob Robberies?". The Faster Times. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  46. ^ Linda Kiltz (December 2011). "Flash Mobs: The Newest Threat to Local Governments". PM Magazine. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 

Further reading

  • Agar, Jon (2003). Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone. Cambridge: Icon. 
  • Carey, James (1989). Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Unwin Hyman. 
  • "Smart mob storms London". BBC News. 8 August 2003. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  • Dickey, Christopher (22 March 2004). "From 9/11 to 3/11". Newsweek. pp. 27–28. 
  • Losowsky, Andrew (25 March 2004). "A 21st century protest". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  • Melloan, George (12 August 2003). "Whoever Said August was a Dull Month?". Wall Street Journal. pp. A13. 
  • Shmueli, Sandra (8 August 2003). "Flash mob craze spreads". (CNN). Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  • "Dadaist lunacy or the future of protest?". The Social Issues Research Centre. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 

External links

  • Flashmob Documentary Podcast from
  • "Manhattan Mob Meets its Maker" – Wired News
  • Flashmobs around the world -
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