I have at times thought that flash mobs were more about people desperately trying to find a use for new technology than anything else. Now I wonder how long the innocent random chaos of the flash mob phenomenon will persist, now that there's been a foreshadowing of what a flash mob with a passionate purpose can cause.
Yesterday's race riots in Cronulla, Sydney - which spread to other suburbs such as Maroubra (close to where I work), Brighton le Sands and Rockdale and Tempe (close to where I live) were fuelled partly by broadcast sms messages, emails and discussions on electronic forums. Of course, the role of this technology is very minor compared with the mainstream media, particularly the Daily Telegraph and talk back radio, the influence of alcohol and the usually buried but ever-simmering racial tensions in Australian society (in saying this, I am in disagreement with our Prime Minister). I think that Australia has real racial problems, but then I think most places in the world do, it's just the problems aren't as obvious where the population is more homogenous.
A mob of 5000 is very substantial, but bear in mind that the population of Sydney is over 4 million. It looked huge on the TV, and it has shocked me and everybody else whom I've spoken to about it - but nobody has been very surprised that it happened. I wonder if there were many people who just wanted to make a non-violent but assertive stand to "reclaim the beach", as it seemed to be at the beginning, before it got out out of hand and the crowd took on an ugly life of its own. I don't excuse them, I'm sure that most knew that there was an extremely high likelihood that such a mass gathering could degenerate into violence, even if they weren't planning on throwing the first punch.
Given how much people like to talk about the wisdom of crowds, and the power of folksomonies, it's interesting to see such a graphic illustration that sometimes crowds are very destructive things. This isn't to attack the legitimacy of the whole concept, just to point out that it is not an absolute. Sometimes the crowds are wrong and sometimes they should be avoided.