Are Flash Mobs the Bad Guys on the Streets of Social Media?

March 20, 2012 by  
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Charleston social mediaFlash mobs first came onto the scene in the early 2000s as a means to draw attention to a certain brand or charitable organization. Using social media, large groups of people were able to connect, organize themselves, and choreograph these public performances that, for the most part, brought joy and inspiration to the unsuspecting crowds. However, flash mobs in the hands of unscrupulous people were eventually organized for destructive reasons, and it wasn’t long before the whole phenomenon got a bad rap.

Sometimes a little “flash” is a good thing

Many flash mobs have been organized in an effort to “do good,” like the ones orchestrated in response to the disasters in Haiti and Japan. These mobs were used to raise awareness as well as money. Other flash mobs have been able to draw attention to local charitable organizations. One such organization was started by 13-year-old Claire Wineland, who was born with cystic fibrosis. In May, her charity “Claire’s Place Foundation” organized a flash mob in Santa Monica, and they danced to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The flash mob got the attention of major celebrities who joined the cause and pledged to help find a cure for this disease. All over the country other flash mobs have been able to draw attention to worthwhile charities and causes. Check out this full list of noteworthy organizations “doing good” via flash mob media.

Pay It Forward

It wasn’t long until marketers realized that flash mobs were an incredibly effective way to drive targeted engagement and encourage viral marketing. In traditional marketing campaigns, commercials and print ads didn’t allow for brand enthusiast participation. With flash mobs, a brand can invite an enthusiast in to be part of the interactive message. These brand events not only engage current enthusiasts, they also have the ability to reach fragmented audiences, cultivate peer endorsements and influence behavior change. Utilizing flash mobs to promote a positive message can actually make a difference and have a “pay it forward” effect. The students who combined their efforts to create this anti-bullying video may not have single-handedly ended bullying, but they certainly took a stand against violence as a group.

Beware the Dark Side

Social media can be a powerful tool for communication and positive change. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen more frequent examples of mistreatment. In the case of flash mobs, there have been those whose purpose held a darker intent. These flash mobs are orchestrated to bring a massive group of people together for destructive reasons, such as looting and robbing. In an effort to­ protect its citizens from these nefarious mobs, some cities have instituted curfews, especially for teens that tend to be involved.

A little Game of Cops and Mobbers

There’s a new sheriff in town and this one’s beat is on the digital street.  Authorities have begun to monitor social media sites in an effort to snuff out bad flash mobs before they have a chance to form. The challenge for these law enforcement officers is being able to accurately weed out the “bad seeds” from the “good ones”. Additionally, the question of how much policing of the internet should really be allowed has made its way into the mainstream awareness, due to the recent debates over SOPA and PIPA. Authorities may find it exceedingly difficult to monitor social media in the future, and it is something that we will all be affected by in one way or another.

Don’t Bash the Flash

Whether used with positive or negative intentions, flash mobs truly emphasize the power of social media and the ability we now have to connect on a grand scale. It will be interesting to see how social media plays a part in our offline world in the future. It’s unfortunate that criminals and hooligans have ruined the image of flash mobs because it is amazing what an impact can be made with a group of people, a video camer and one unified vision, such is the example with this final touching video – biggest flash mob ever.


This article was submitted by Kaity Nakagoshi, on behalf of the University of Notre Dame’s online program.  They offer a variety of executive certificates and online business courses. Kaity also works with the University of San Francisco’s online program, which offers a master certificate in internet marketing and a specialized certificate in advanced social media. Twitter: @Kaity_FL