Smart mob

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Smart mob on occasion of United Nations 'Children's Day'.
Vienna, Austria, in 2010-11-20.

A smart mob is defined as a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its quadratically increasing network links, enabling people to connect to information and others, to perform a task allowing a form of social coordination.

Parallels are made to, for instance, slime molds.[citation needed] The concept was introduced by Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. According to Rheingold, smart mobs are an indication of the evolving communication technologies that will empower the people. In 2002, the "smart mob" concept was highlighted in the New York Times "Year in Ideas."[1]

These growing technologies include the Internet, computer-mediated communication such as Internet Relay Chat, and wireless devices like mobile phones and personal digital assistants. Methodologies like peer-to-peer networks and ubiquitous computing are also changing the ways in which people organize and share information.

Smart mobs sometimes are manipulated by the dispatchers who control the 'mobbing system' (i.e., those who own the contact list and the means to forward instant messages to a group) and are induced to cause distress and aggravation to individuals who have been targeted or singled out for whatever reason.

There is a tendency to keep the dynamics of smart mobbing 'covert', and not to discuss such incidents on the internet.

Early instances[edit]

According to CNN, the first smart mobs were teenage "thumb tribes" in Tokyo and Helsinki who used text messaging on cell phones to organize impromptu raves or to stalk celebrities. For instance, in Tokyo, crowds of teenage fans would assemble seemingly spontaneously at subway stops where a rock musician was rumored to be headed.

However, an even earlier example is the Dîner en blanc phenomenon, which has taken place annually in Paris, France, since 1988, for one night around the end of June. The invited guests wear only white clothes and gather at a chosen spot, knowledge of which they have only a short time beforehand. They bring along food, drink, chairs and a table and the whole group then gathers to have a meal, after which they disperse. The event has been held each year in different places in the centre of Paris. It is not a normal cultural event because it is not advertised and only those who have received an invite attend - information on the chosen location is transferred by text message or more recently Twitter. The number of people attending has grown, in 2011, to over 10,000.[2] Dîner en blanc would be considered a smart mob rather than a flash mob, because the event lasts for several hours.

In the days after the U.S. presidential election of 2000, online activist Zack Exley anonymously created a website that allowed people to suggest locations for gatherings to protest for a full recount of the votes in Florida. On the first Saturday after the election, more than 100 significant protests took place—many with thousands of participants—without any traditional organizing effort. Exley wrote in December 2000 that the self-organized protests "demonstrated that a fundamental change is taking place in our national political life. It's not the Internet per se, but the emerging potential for any individual to communicate -- for free and anonymously if necessary -- with any other individual."[3]

In the Philippines in 2001, a group of protesters organized via text messaging gathered at the EDSA Shrine, the site of the 1986 revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos, to protest the corruption of President Joseph Estrada. The protest grew quickly, and Estrada was soon removed from office.[4]

The Critical Mass bicycling events, dating back to 1992, are also sometimes compared to smart mobs, due to their self-organizing manner of assembly.[5][6]

Relation to flash mobs[edit]

Flash mobs are a specific form of smart mob, originally describing a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual and pointless for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse. The term flash mob is claimed to have been inspired by "smart mob".[7] Since its inception, however, "flash mob" has been used by news media and promoters to refer to nearly any form of smart mob.

Social Capital[edit]

Social capital is a broad concept, usually focused on the values obtained by being part of a social network and thus, referred to as the sum of "social resources" (Lin, 2001). Coleman (1988) argues that social capital has several forms and consists of an aspect of social structure and the fact that it facilitates actions within this structure. Social capital is thus based on the value social structure creates to actors, in the sense that through this structure, they can achieve benefits.[8] Putnam describes social capital as the features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefits.[9]

Putnam further explained that social capital is dying out, but in this case, social mobs actually increase social capital. Social Mob depends significantly on connections online which make it possible to unite offline. It is a new form of organization made possible because of a certain mutual benefit; whether it be, political, cultural or just for plain entertainment. Before the popularity of social media sites, people organized through the use of cell phones. On January 20, 2001, President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines became the first head of state in history to lose power to a smart mob. More than 1 million Manila residents, mobilized and coordinated by waves of text messages, assembled at the site of the 1986 “People Power” peaceful demonstration that toppled the Marcos regime.[10]

One of the main collective benefits of social capital is information access, which gives users the ability to receive and contribute information to various forums and social networks, consequently users will enhance online social connections. Information access can be obtained through smart mobs in which a group of people create online discussions centered around their interests or causes. As a result, smart mobs are planned from these discussions and are executed in the physical world. Because online social connections are growing through groups such as smart mobs, users are gaining these benefits of social capital ultimately leading to more civic engagement in the physical world. In 2013, online connections increased significantly. Through the use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, people can easily connect and spread information. At the end of the day, social mobs is beneficial to increasing social capital.


Essentially, the smart mob is a practical implementation of collective intelligence. According to Rheingold, examples of smart mobs are the street protests organized by the anti-globalization movement. The Free State Project has been described in 'Foreign Policy' as an example of potential "smart mob rule".[11] Other examples of smart mobs include:

  • Smart mobs who arrange the meet up over the internet and show up at a retailer at a specific time and use their number to negotiate a discount with the retailer.[12]
  • eBay — a collection of users who are empowered by the internet and eBay to buy and sell and maintain the quality control over all transactions through the rating system. People can leave positive, negative or neutral feedback, depending on how they felt about their transaction with that seller.
  • Text messages that were sent in the Philippines, which are thought to be partly responsible for the demonstration that ousted former President Joseph Estrada. Examples of such a text message read "Wear black to mourn the death of democracy", "Expect there to be rumbles" and "Go to EDSA".
  • The 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks (11M), and the reaction from the people against the government in the Spanish elections of 14 March 2004.
  • The 2005 civil unrest in France exhibited smart mobs - the French national police spokesman, Patrick Hamon, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that youths, mainly those of the Muslim faith, in individual neighborhoods were communicating by cellphone text messages, online blogs, and/or email — arranging meetings and warning each other about police operations.
  • On July 5, 2005, during U2's performance of the song New Year's Day at a stadium in Chorzów, Poland, the audience of 70,000 waved colored articles of clothing to form a giant Polish flag of white and red: fans on the pitch waved red, those in the bleachers waved white. This behavior was coordinated by fans communicating on the internet.[13]
  • On November 6, 2008, more than 500 students across Taiwan began a sit-in protest in front of the Executive Yuan. Known as the Wild Strawberry Students Movement 野草莓學運, this assembly was mobilised overnight with the help of an on-line Bulletin Board System (BBS). The students were equipped with mobile technology such as HSDPA (high speed download packet access) and web-cameras. They soon set up a live broadcast that aired for 24 hours a day over the internet for more than a week, and they used mobile devices to keep up to date with government reactions on the mass media. One of the main themes of the protest was for amendment of the Assembly and Parade Law that curbed freedom of expression: this demand earned support from various non-government organizations nationwide.
  • The release of the Baauer song, Harlem Shake is one of 2013's most recent smart mob phenomena. The song reached 700 million views in the month of February on YouTube. The song and dance has influences from a dance originally released in the 1980s.[14] The phenomenon involves large groups of people banding together, utilizing their weak ties, and all filming a video dancing to the Harlem Shake. On February 10, 2013, the upload rate of the "Harlem Shake" videos was 4,000 per day onto YouTube. The increasing popularity has enabled the video to become used as a political statement, such as in Egypt, where a smart mob formed to perform the dance outside the Egyptian Islamic president's headquarters.[15] According to Rhinegold's characteristics of what makes a smart mob, such as a lack of centralized control and peer to peer influence, the "Harlem Shake" is the epitome of a smart mob.[16]

Smart mobs have begun to have an impact in current events, as mobile phones and text messages have empowered everyone from revolutionaries in Malaysia to individuals protesting the second Iraq war. Individuals who have divergent worldviews and methods have been able to coordinate short-term goals thanks to these technologies.

The comic book Global Frequency, written by Warren Ellis, describes a covert, non-governmental intelligence organization built around a smart mob of people that are called on to provide individual expertise in solving extraordinary crises.

David Brin's speculative science fiction novel, Existence (ISBN 978-0-765-30361-5), similarly posits the use of on-the-fly smart mobs by credible journalists as sources of information and expertise.

Distributed mobs[edit]

Smart mobs can also be organized to congregate simultaneously at multiple locations. Usually used to attract media attention and spread awareness of a cause, distributed mobs were used effectively in the 2005 civil unrest in France. Distributed mobs were also used in Project Chanology, an ongoing protest against Scientology. On a larger scale, a "World Wide Flash Mob" is being organized around Geocaching and aims to be the largest distributed mob to date.[17]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]