After a number of incidents where flash mobs were convened to commit crimes, the city of Cleveland is preparing legislation to make it illegal to organize or take part in flash mobs that lead to illicit activity including theft, assault, and vandalism.
The new law prescribes new legal penalties for any type of disorderly conduct by four or more people that is organized via social media. Everyone who receives a flash mob message and then participates in the illicit activity is liable to be charged, with potential charges including rioting and using a “criminal tool” -- which in this case can mean smartphones and computers. People who organize illegal flash mobs can also be charged with inciting a riot. Penalties include up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
In announcing the law, Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed issued this Wild West lawman’s warning: “No more laughing, we're coming to get you, we're knocking on your door now.” No word as yet on whether Clint Eastwood will be invited to help enforce the law with the requisite grizzled machismo.
A previous iteration of the law attempted to criminalize using Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites for organizing criminal flash mobs, but was criticized as unconstitutional and vetoed by Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson in August; Jackson has yet to sign the new legislation, which is again being called unconstitutional (and perhaps unenforceable).
The issue of violent flash mobs became even more prominent following widespread rioting in Britain earlier this year, much of which was organized via social media using smartphones. Although some draconian responses were proposed, including temporary social media blackouts in times of disorder, these have mostly been rejected in favor of more moderate remedies and preventive measures, including law enforcement cooperation with social media sites to identify and neutralize threats before they explode into actual violence. However it’s still not clear how exactly social media companies will cooperate with police in monitoring future threats.