Saturday, January 16, 2016

On the responsibility of "flash mobs"

Hmm ... where did I put that big honking I AM NOT A LAWYER disclaimer?  Ah ... here it is.

OK ... where was I?

In an old post about a pillow fight that got out of hand, I speculated about the responsibilities of flash mobs.  One point that the original post only mentions in passing is that the pillow fight was only a flash mob activity by the loosest of interpretations.  It was, after all, already an annual event, pretty much the opposite of a spontaneous occurrence.

So why call it a "flash mob"?  While the event was scheduled for a definite place and time (Valentine's Day in Justin Herman Plaza) and now even has a Facebook page, the event itself is open to anyone who happens to show up.  There are no tickets and there is no official organizer or organizing body.  If you show up with a pillow on Valentine's day and start swinging, you're in.  Otherwise you're not.

Leaving aside some interesting questions of identity and language usage for the other blog, it seems that the key point here is that people sometimes gather unofficially to do things, they've been doing that forever, and, most important, being unofficial does not absolve anyone of responsibility.  If I get together with ten close friends and twenty people they invited and 35 people those people invited, it doesn't matter whether we did this over the web, or whether I know everyone there.  It matters what we do.

If we decide to go clean up a city park, good for us.  If we decide to trash the same park, we're responsible for that instead.  Which is why the original headline, "S.F. may crack down on 'flash mob' antics" misses the point.  As the article itself made clear, the city had a particular case of how to deal with a not-officially-sanctioned group of people making a mess.  Nothing particularly flash-mobby or webby about it.

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