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Flash Mobs: Peaceable Assembly for Spontaneous Fun 543

Schmendr1ck writes "The Orlando Sentinel is carrying a story on the growing trend of 'creating a crowd on a moment's notice for no particular reason' knows as a flash mob. Recent flash mobs (sometimes hundreds of people) have wandered into into an upscale NYC shoe store acting like confused tourists from Maryland, gathered at the Hyatt near Grand Central Station for 15 seconds of spontaneous applause, and converged on the Macy's carpet department to debate the quality of the rugs for sale. Check cheesebikini? for pictures and info on past mobs, as well as links to sites that organize these events. Sounds like a fun, harmless, and Constitutionally-protected way of blowing off a little steam."
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Flash Mobs: Peaceable Assembly for Spontaneous Fun

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:17PM (#6528886)
    Just wait until someone high up views this as a threat and that Constitution guarantee gets brushed aside as something from a "different era" like concerns about quartering soldiers.
    • by sweetooth ( 21075 ) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:29PM (#6528990) Homepage
      Actually it's not constitutionally protected anyway. These people are doing this on private property and can be removed at any time by the request of the owners. If they fail to leave they are trespassing. If they decide to do this in a park or a public space then it would be constitutionally protected under the right to free assembly, however doing it in Sears doesn't fall under that category.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        If they decide to do this in a park or a public space then it would be constitutionally protected under the right to free assembly

        In NYC you need a Public Assembly Permit ($150) for any gathering of more than 20 people.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2003 @02:15AM (#6529771)
          Princeton Illinois just made it illegal for groups to assemble in public. Big story around here. Tired of the kids causing trouble or something like that. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly the fundamental tenets or our society can be brushed aside.

          If one cannot freely assemble in New York, then citizens of the place are no longer free human beings as defined by the Constitution. No debate required, that's just the way it is.

          The question then becomes:

          How much do you value the ideas presented by the Constitution?

          And hey, maybe the brand of freedom offered in New York is good enough for your tastes. But don't take too much consolation from that. Look around the world and back through history and you'll see human beings finding all sorts of things palettable. If you get enough people content to subside on dogshit, that's what they get. You want to have better and keep it, you're gonna have to demand better. How demanding is America of it's freedoms in 2003?

          If concepts had graves, the headstone for our lost freedoms would read:

          "If you have nothing hide, you have nothing to worry about."

          "You have nothing to worry about if you're not doing anything wrong."

          What merits hiding? What is considered wrong?

          Who determines these things if there is no longer a Constitution to define the spectrum of what a free human being can expect to be able to do within his own life?

          Could you be content to place the entirety of your freedoms sqaurely in the lap of John Ashcroft? How about a future that contains a succession of people just like him, one after another. Mix that with corporate governance and policing as witnessed by the DMCA and RIAA.

          The future will continue to be grim so long as we have a populace that's too foolish to understand the value of the protections given by the Constituion.

      • by MrLint ( 519792 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:43PM (#6529073) Journal
        Perhaps you will recall the "kmart" incident []. This is where the cops took it upon themselves to hold a 'raid' on people in the in the parking lot of a 24 hour kmart and a fast food restaurant. There was no complaint by kmart and the cops arrested people who has just exited both the kmart and the fast food joint without cause, under the auspices of 'loitering' or something else equally as stupid.

        Im going to end my commentary here.before i get more irritated. It might please you to know that the cops got in a shit load of trouble and all the people were un-arrested.
      • by sglider ( 648795 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:29AM (#6529320) Homepage Journal
        1. Fill out a 'right to peaceably assemble' permit, specifying the date, time, number of people expected, and reason for assembling. 2. Request where you'd like to peaceably assemble, keeping in mind that your local goverment may move you on a whim (Democratic National Convention, 2000). 3. Bribe 50 or so local officers so that you are not arrested for 'obstructing a sidewalk' (a la the protesters in NYC against the War in Iraq). 4. Finally, do not allow anyone to shout during said demonstration, otherwise police in riot gear that were 'hanging around' may find a reason to bust up your assembly.
  • by Slime-dogg ( 120473 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:18PM (#6528899) Journal

    Sounds like a bunch of hippies!

    Let's spontaneously "get together," if you know what I mean. It'll be fun!

  • One Question... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Why? What's the point?
    • Why? What's the point?

      Because it's there. Jeez, pay attention!

    • EXACTLY!!
    • What are you, a robot?
    • Re:One Question... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ugmo ( 36922 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:20AM (#6529278)
      It's like one of the Lego built CD Changer Hacks, the MIT Practical Joke Hacks or Doom in Text Mode Hacks.

      There is a mental challenge also:
      It is mildly complicated to plan and organize. There is an element of imagination involved in coming up with a surreal situation to use the crowd in.

      It is also like art using people.

      If there was an actual practical purpose to the afore-mentioned Hacks then that would detract from the fun and Hack value of it.

      In the same way, if these crowds met to protest something then people wouldn't even pay attention to them. They would see the protest signs and say - oh, more protesters.I live in NY and there are picket lines and protests everyday and they are all ignored.
      The way it is now people notice the flash crowds BECAUSE there is no purpose to them.

      The only time protestors are noticed is when they become violent like in Seattle, disrupt traffic or otherwise do things that are probably counter-productive to the cause they wish to promote. It might feel cool to participate in such mass protests, but I think they have little effect on policy e.g. the protests did nothing to stop the war from taking place in Iraq or in bringing home the troops.

      I would actually appreciate a recent example where protests accomplished something in the US except increase security at WTO meetings.
      • Re:One Question... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by packeteer ( 566398 ) <packeteer@subdim ... m ['on.' in gap]> on Friday July 25, 2003 @02:27AM (#6529814)
        The only time protestors are noticed is when they become violent like in Seattle, disrupt traffic or otherwise do things that are probably counter-productive to the cause they wish to promote.

        I don't blame you for not knowing but people were not getting violent in Seattle during the WTO protest. I live near Seattle and although i was not there i know many people who were including my father was was taken into a holding cell for no reason and released when they realized he was a member of the BAR and they didn't want that.

        Many of my friend were shot with rubber bullets and left with bruises for no reason other than being in a crowd. You might not believe me if i say this but i knew a cop who wanted to be involved just so he could shoot people doing nothing. Now im sure not al the cops there felt like that but i know there were enough to cause some trouble. There were soooo many camera's there that i would bet no act of violence was missed. When i watched on the news at night all i saw was violence but only a little but. They would loop the same two clips of people breaknig windows but it was nothing like it was portrayed on TV. EVERY single protest was peaceful and most of the police didn't do anything wrong. The problem was when someone totally unassociated with the protest went near them and starting breaking things. Then the police would go all out on the protesters. The worst part of the stores that were broken the only ones being protected were corporate stores. The assholes who were breaknig stuff did not discriminate between corporate and other stores as the media claimed. It was no protesters breaking the nike store. It was some assholes breaking anything before they were caught.
        • Re:One Question... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Blimey85 ( 609949 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @10:26AM (#6531692)
          people were not getting violent in Seattle during the WTO protest

          I do blame you for being a moron and trying to skew the facts. Yes there were violent people. Yes they were blocking sidewalks, streets, shops, etc. Yes they basically shutdown most of downtown seattle for several days. I live just 10 miles south of Seattle and I saw much of this first hand. I've also seen a couple of documentaries about the protests and while I think the cops were out of line on more than one occasion, the protestors were not the innocent angels you make them out to be.

          Why did you fail to mention the bottles and debris being thrown at police officers? It's sad that we only see what we want to see. You apparently wanted to see peaceful protestors being victimized by the Seattle Police and so that is what you saw. Maybe you should look again and see the truth.

          You should be able to find any of a number of documentaries on the protest at any local library in Seattle or the surrounding area.

          Back to the topic at hand, what are the flash mobbers hurting? They show up, gather for a few moments, and then disburse. I don't think there is enough time for anyone to become annoyed with these people. I think most people would still be in shock by the time it's over. With the WTO protests you had individuals "manning" the streets and key intersections pretty much around the clock.

  • Eww, Flash! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:19PM (#6528908)
    Can't they program the mob in proper W3 approved HTML instead of Flash? Until they do this, I won't want to join, even if it's a CowboyNeal fan mob.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:20PM (#6528910)
    Sounds like a fun, harmless, and Constitutionally-protected way of blowing off a little steam.
    I thought they phased out that Constitution thing a few years ago.
  • by NoTheory ( 580275 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:20PM (#6528915)
    However in places like columbus ohio, as far as i'm aware, it's illegal to gather more than 6 people in public places with out a permit from the city. So i guess it's protected so long as you jump through the proper hoops. Sort of cuts down on the spontinaity thing. (although, i don't think i've ever heard of such a regulation being enforced)
  • by YllabianBitPipe ( 647462 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:21PM (#6528924)

    ... a lot of these people, especially the ones organizing on the web, are recently laid off techies, with copious amounts of free time on their hands.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:21PM (#6528928)
    People SPAM.
  • Flash mob flash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by felonious ( 636719 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:23PM (#6528938) Journal
    Maybe they could further exploit this phenomenon by incorporating Stuart Tunic's (sp?) work?

    Flash mob flashing know...whole shit like that
  • did anyone else see the title of this story and think of a mud []?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:25PM (#6528950)
    ...but people who think assembly is fun are just weird.
  • by grouchyDude ( 322842 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:25PM (#6528952)
    In the old days. This was our best approximation. Back when I was a kid we'd get one or two people on side of the road, and each "team" would pull on an invisible (virtual/imaginary) rope across the road. Most cars would slow down or stop thining there really must be a rope there, they just couldn't see it. Then we'd just walk away.

    I guess we should have tried recruiting other mine-wannabes.
    • When your driving alog the road in a wooded area up in Maine and decide to pull over and point in to the woods, suddenly you have a lot of other cars joining you pointing and wondering what is going on. Then you leave quietly, and laugh at the herd.
    • Heh. We had something in grade school we called the rock trick. I went to a Catholic grade school, run by the nuns. The side of our gymnasium was aluminum siding, and we used to have one kid stand against it, and another about 50 feet away. The kid against the building would have rocks in his hand. The other kid would pretend to throw things at him, and he would take a rock in his hand and while doing a dodging motion, would throw it against the siding to get the authentic "ping" sound. The illusion w
  • Larry Niven (Score:5, Informative)

    by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:26PM (#6528959)
    Why doesn't this article mention Larry Niven even once? I was under the impression that he coined the term [] ("flash crowd") in his earlier short stories.

    If I'm wrong, I stand corrected (in advance.)

    • Re:Larry Niven (Score:5, Informative)

      by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:03AM (#6529190)
      That's correct. Those stories (part of Niven's Known Space future history) took place after the invention of the matter transmitter. Whenever an interesting news story would break, bored people, reporters, whoever, would "flick in" by the thousands from around the country to see it firsthand. Once the cops would realize that a flash crowd was building, they would turn on "riot control" which would redirect anyone trying to flick back out to a central processing facility somewhere in Nevada, I think.

      Actually, this sounds remarkably like the Slashdot effect, only with people not Web hits.

      The first story I know of that mentions the "flash crowd" was "The Permanent Floating Riot Club", where a gang of criminals actually used flash crowds to steal.
    • Re:Larry Niven (Score:3, Informative)


      Larry Niven might have used the term "flash crowd" in one of his novels--but the term "flash mob" has been in use since at least the 19th century. It was used to describe the loud and outre--"flash" in the sense of exploding powder ("a flash in the pan").

      The term was certainly in use by the 1930s--Dorothy Sayers refers to the "flash mob" in one of her stories about Lord Peter Wimsey.

  • by arashiken ( 247701 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:27PM (#6528967)
    flash mob, meet slashdot. ooo look! i see your server already knows us. don't worry, we'll be gone in 15 minutes.
  • by Daikiki ( 227620 ) <{daikiki} {at} {}> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:27PM (#6528971) Homepage Journal
    but it looks like the site has been. . .umm. . .flashmobbed.
  • Anyone else think of Larry Niven when they read this? Thank goodness quantum teleportation won't work on people... yet. (see if you don't know what I mean.)
  • NYC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Triv ( 181010 ) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:29PM (#6528991) Journal

    I was a part of one of these, and let me tell you it was a riot. One of the rules was you couldn't initiate conversation with anyone and that answers to questions were scripted. We stayed together for 5 minutes and dispersed, no one having said a word. It was surreal but wonderful, especially the looks on the normal people's faces, trying to figure out exactly what was going on.


    • Re:NYC (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Javit ( 68742 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @02:07AM (#6529739)
      It was surreal but wonderful, especially the looks on the normal people's faces...

      The desire to be special is one of the most "normal" human inclinations of all.

      You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

  • cheesebikini's [] web site. Be careful what you wish for ...
  • by ebusinessmedia1 ( 561777 ) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:32PM (#6529009)
    This looks a lot like some of the behavior engaged in the past (and present) by the the San Francisco Cacophony Society

    The increasing capacity for spontaneous social expression via the network is going to get a boost, now that *everyone* who is within proximity of a prank has a chance to participate.

    Yet another example of new social behaviors that emerge spontaneously at the 'edge' of the network.

    It's be interesting to see what new kinds of mass social behavior develop, and which ones manage to survive, and become institutionalized.

    As long as no one gets hurt, we could use a little levity.

    As stated on the SF Cacophony site: "The Cacophony Society is a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society through subversion, pranks, art, fringe explorations and meaningless madness. "

    Here's an excerpt about one past activity:

    Mad Santa Crawl:
    "each year at christmastime a crowd of santas descends upon one of san francisco's most-touristed neighborhoods to get drunk, to hand out disturbing gifts, and to frighten tourists.

    on december 16, 2000 a santa faction drove to a ranch in petaluma, spent the afternoon discharging firearms, then joined the rest of the santas for the evening's festivities in san francisco. about 150 santas took over grant street in chinatown, and they eventually headed up into north beach."
  • cheesebikini?

    July 24, 2003
    Flash Mob in Central Park

    Fred Hoysted was first to chime in with a report and a photo from the Fifth New York Flash Mob. was quick on Fred's heels with a report and a nice group of photos, including a larger version of the cropped shot to the right.

    They seem to have carried out a fantastic, bizarre idea: make a bunch of increasingly surreal "nature sounds" in Central Park.

    Did anyone make an audio recording? Please let me know if you did.

    Filed under flash m
  • by zymano ( 581466 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:34PM (#6529017)
  • Try this one (Score:3, Informative)

    by heli0 ( 659560 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:37PM (#6529032) []

    It's in Italian.

  • Distraction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by firewrought ( 36952 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:38PM (#6529042)
    This article reminds me of Bruce Sterling's Distraction, in which a mob spontaneously forms to attack and overrun a corrupt bank w/o any apparent source of centralized organization or communication.

    It makes me wonder if we are on the verge of creating a trans-human intelligence capable of consciousness. Too bad we don't have any formal idea of what intelligence and conciousness is, or we could analyze the situation more closely...

    • Jezus, your standards for "trans-human intelligence" are friggin' low!!!
    • Re:Distraction (Score:3, Insightful)

      It makes me wonder if we are on the verge of creating a trans-human intelligence capable of consciousness.

      Nope. We're not. We're just minimizing individuality by removing context, thus encouraging our pack-instincts to re-assert themselves.

      Too bad we don't have any formal idea of what intelligence and conciousness is, or we could analyze the situation more closely...

      We have all sorts of formal ideas. But when we start to talk about them, some jackoff gets their religion embroiled up in the debate,
  • by SIGPrez ( 229837 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:42PM (#6529066) Homepage
    Seems like a real life representation of a slashdotting.

    Does the first one there yell 'FP!' ?
  • by simetra ( 155655 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:45PM (#6529083) Homepage Journal
    Tin Foil Hat

    This would be for these types of stories that get the paranoid wackos to remind us of how our rights are gone, the government is after us, etc.

    Or at least store these on

  • Critical Mass (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheViewFromTheGround ( 607422 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:49PM (#6529109) Homepage
    All over the world, there's been a movement called Critical Mass that gets folks together to take over the streets on bike rides on a semi-regular basis. Here in Chicago, it's been really successful -- hundreds go on the main ride every month, even in the dead of winter. In the summer months, there have been around a thousand riders. Critical Mass is a sort of anarchic protest against the domination of our streets by cars but without a specific, directed agenda. The idea is that having fun and taking over streets, no matter what one's political orientation is, is a good way to make a statement. What's interesting is that now that almost everybody has some direct connection to the Net, Critical Mass rides are getting organized overnight. When the war in Iraq broke out, the next day a group of Critical Massers against the war (not all CM folks are) organized a very effective ride within a half a day and people have been now talking about organizing within a few hours. I have to wonder about flash crowds becoming flash protests or flash rides and what the potential benefits and problems of this will be. Speaking of which, this effect also happened in the South Korean election recently in a close race.
    • Re:Critical Mass (Score:5, Insightful)

      by madcow_ucsb ( 222054 ) <slashdot2&sanks,net> on Friday July 25, 2003 @02:15AM (#6529768)
      *begin rant mode in 3...2...1...*
      Fun my ass! You obviously have never tried to get thru a city during CM. The idea's not having fun, it's taking a mob mentality in thinking it's ok to disrupt everybody's life because you're pissed at the world.

      I've always been one for peaceful demonstration and whatnot, but Critical Mass has always been a HUGE peeve of mine. What (and nobody I've asked has been able to answer this) is it supposed to accomplish??? Change? Well, it doesn't make me want to leave my car at home. It does, however, make me want to run down the next cyclist I see. Awareness? I know they say any publicity is good publicity, but pissing off the city isn't the way to gain support for a cause...

      I might even agree with your cause. But the only thing making me late for work is gonna do is make me vote against whatever it is you're trying to accomplish.

      Truth is, I've always thought of CM events as collective hissy fits. Just kicking and screaming and basically being annoying as hell.

      If you want to bitch, fine, but direct it at someone who gives a damn and can do something about it. But don't fuck with the roads and interfere with all of us who are just trying to live our lives in peace and do our friggin jobs.

      *sigh* It's so goddamn childish...
      • Re:Critical Mass (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @06:24AM (#6530411) Homepage

        >mob mentality thinking it's ok to disrupt everybody's life because you're pissed at the world.

        Mob mentality also involves assuming that everyone (who matters) thinks like you. CM rides disrupt drivers because they are pissed off at drivers. Drivers - as CM rides so very clearly show - aren't the whole world.

        You're right that it serves no purpose and that it's inefficient. So, when did we become robots? Go back to Soviet Russia, comrade, your groupthink will be very welcome there. M'yeah.

    • Re:Critical Mass (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thanuk ( 620203 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @06:56AM (#6530468)
      > The idea is that having fun and taking over streets, no matter what one's political orientation is, is a good way to make a statement

      Make a statement about what? That you don't care about inconveniencing others and you've time on your hands?
  • zerg (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Omlette ( 124579 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:53PM (#6529135) Homepage
    Electronic sheep?
  • And... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Squidgee ( 565373 ) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:58PM (#6529164)
    And the "flash mob" that is /. brings down Cheese Bikini.

    I'll have pictures up shortly.

  • by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:00AM (#6529174) Homepage
    If you're ever at a concert or any event like that, get like ten people you know to start doing something that makes noise (applauding, chanting something, whatever). It will spread infectiously in a matter of seconds. This works in just general crowds sometimes too but at a concert or similar event it's almost ensured.

    I know this because I discovered it by accident once. For no particular reason I began clapping abnormally loud and in a pattern, long after people had stopped applauding. A group of my friends joined in as a joke and within say 20 seconds the whole room of people was clapping along. We tested this a couple other places as well.
  • This will be great, we'll all head to a public house at around 7:00 on Friday, drink beer like we can handle it, then spontaineously all leave at once when closing time is called.

    Who's interested?
  • The First Italian Flash Mob

    What, do two guys show up and try and sell you "protection" and then disappear suddenly?

  • Also see: slash crowd-- the physical manifestation of the slashdot effect.
  • Seems to me, and this is just because I am evil, but this could be used as a very powerful tool by the less than noble to do very creativly bad things. And the participants may not necessarily know they are participating in the evil.

    You could put people into dangerous situations, influence politicians, perhaps clog up vital areas at just the right time to cause serious harm.

    Not that I dislike these things, I think they are awesome... but like I said, evil is great! I'm off to think of fun ways to put f
  • Fark vs Slashdot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by August_zero ( 654282 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:58AM (#6529459)
    If you want to see something interesting...

    I have scanned through the responses to this subject here on slashdot, and while there are some that have been very negative, the overall vibe I get is positive. (or nuetral)

    Now, go over to, and read through the comments that were posted after the article went up yesterday. A vast majority of them are negative, and not just negative in the "bah Im smarter than everyone else" mindset that most of the FARK message boards are built upon, but rather an honest to god "I am offended at how stupid people are that would do this sort of thing" kind of way.

    Not sure if its all that important or even on-topic but an interesting contrast of the two communities.
  • by deranged unix nut ( 20524 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @11:11AM (#6532162) Homepage
    This story on flash mobs reminds me of Santarchy.

    Flash mobs, meet lots of Santas informally gathering at the same place and time. []
  • by Linuxathome ( 242573 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @11:45AM (#6532488) Homepage Journal
    The title of the story had me confused. At first, before reading the article, I thought the story pertained to mobs getting together to see people flash themselves. Shucks, I was wrong.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.