A New Thing to Freak Out About (Or Not): Crime Flash Mobs

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Writing in the Daily Beast earlier this year, Megan McArdle sounded the alarm for a very 21st-century new fear:  criminal flash mobs. “Apparently, that’s a thing now,”she notes, after learning of a string of 7-Elevens in and around Baltimore and Montgomery Counties that had been mobbed by teenagers who stole stuff, then fled the store.

I’m not really sure what makes this a “flash mob,” other than the desire for a catchy headline. For those who weren’t paying attention to the internet in 2009, a flash mob is “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.” They’re usually organized via social media/text messages/emails, and have a spontaneous, random feel. Odds are that yes, these teenagers were texting one another. But was it an elaborately planned, electronics-enabled crime spree? Eh, probably not.

So, as McArdle notes, while the idea of a couple dozen teens running into a convenience store, grabbing snacks, and then running out is “maddeningly clever” and “hard to defend against,” I’m not sure it’s anything so new or so viral that  we need to work ourselves up into a panic about it. Which is not to say that mobs of people bent on breaking the law aren’t something to worry about — but scary mobs are certainly nothing new; scary mobs with cell phones aren’t really that much worse. But then again, I can afford to be blase about this (potential) trend — I’m not a 7-Eleven owner.



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