Tweeting a Riot

In the good old days gathering a mob together wasn’t easy. It took quite a bit of organization. You printed flyers, spoke to small groups at local gathering spots such as bars, social halls, town squares, and parks. You did mailings, got on the phone, and took out ads in the paper. You asked everyone you knew to spread the word to gather at a specific day and time and place. The prep for this mob meeting could take days or weeks.

Once you were able to assemble a large group of people in one place then the next step was to “gin up the crowd.” This usually was accomplished by angry charismatic speakers who knew how to use buzz words and terms to incite the emotions of the crowd. Once that “mob mentality” took hold, you were in business and soon the crowd was ready for anything.

“Mob mentality” is a term used to refer to unique behavioral characteristics that emerge when people are in large groups. It is often used in a negative sense, because the term “mob” typically conjures up an image of an aggressive, chaotic group of people. The study of mob mentality is used to analyze situations that range from problems during evacuations to public gatherings that turn violent.

Once the emotions of the mob are incited it is fairly easy for people to join in the group. All it takes is to stop thinking as an individual and go with the flow. The mob develops a collective brain, one usually bent on destruction. It’s easy for individuals to hide within a mob and engage in activities that they normally wouldn’t do on their own.

Assembling crowds for purposes of protest or civil unrest or worse (like toppling entire governments) wasn’t something you could do on the spur of the moment … until now.

In an April 20th Wall Street Journal article it was reported that at least 10 riots have occurred at colleges in the past two months, resulting in hundreds of arrests and dozens of injuries. Why? Many think that social media are helping to fuel misbehavior at student mass gatherings. It’s no surprise, really. For anyone who has been paying attention the force of social media in gathering large angry crowds has been going on for quite sometime now. Remember “The Arab Spring?” Tens of thousands assembled thanks to social media.

The article went on to detail the college riots. Police arrested 19 people near the University of Minnesota’s flagship Twin Cities campus after a recent Gophers hockey loss. At a University of Cincinnati party that drew about 450 students, police had to be summoned when things got out of hand. At an off-campus party at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., police resorted to pepper-spray projectiles to bring the crowd under control.

In Ames, Iowa, Steven Leath, president of Iowa State University, ended an annual week-long celebration, known as Veishea, two weeks ago after a crowd of a few thousand people — mostly students — threw bottles at police and tore down stop signs and light poles on a weeknight. One student was severely hurt when a light pole fell on him.

Many police chiefs interviewed for the article believe that the use of Twitter by students has increased the speed and size with which crowds gather. Gary Margolis, who manages the National Center for Campus Public Safety said, “It used to take a lot more work to generate a gathering. Now one tweet and you’ve just reached 40 people. Everyone has their own mass communications device in their pocket.”

Another new wrinkle in all of this is the popularity of the “selfie.” Taking photos of yourself at one of these riots and posting it on the internet has become “cool.” As    Robert Carrothers, a sociologist at Ohio Northern University who has studied the phenomenon says, “People have a pretty good idea of what they’re supposed to do: You go out in the street, you turn things over, you take selfies.” It’s a riot – literally.

It’s pretty simple to cause large scale havoc in the 21st Century for young people who have nothing better to do. While the internet, as a whole, can be used either for good or bad, social media overall is not a wonderful advancement. Voyeurism, nihilism, and forming cliques are predominantly what social media sites are all about for the young.

Take self-indulgent stupid people willing to do anything at all to achieve international media fame, add to that an easy access to instant widespread communication and you have a recipe for big time trouble. Guaranteed. It’s the “look at me” mentality. Never mind any destruction or injury it might cause, the important thing is “I’m here! I’m in it!” But it’s also the lynch mob mentality. And that’s why this thing is so very frightening.

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