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Aug 10 2011   1:44PM GMT

“Criminal Flash Mobs” Suggests New Social Media Monitoring Needs

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I heard a story on NPR this morning that sent chills down my spine, about the spontaneous looting episodes that have occurred recently in British cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, and others. At least part of the story came from an AP piece entitled “For Flash Mobsters, Crowd Size a Tempting Cover,” which reports on what it dubs “flash mob robberies” as a growing phenomenon all over the developed world — including incidents in the US earlier this year in cities as diverse and distributed as Cleveland, LA (Venice and Hollywood), Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

AP story on flash mob robberies

NPR Headline for AP Story on Flash Mobe Robberies

More disturbingly, the AP story includes this statement: “The National Retail Federation said 10 percent of 106 companies it surveyed reported being targeted in the last year by groups of thieves using flash mob tactics.” In the paragraph you can also read this snippet “…the federation…advises retailers to monitor social media networks and report planned heists to the police.”

Wow! That’s a pretty tall order, and not at all something that most retail operators have hitherto included in their budgeting or risk analyses. My guess is that this will be a case where technology can come to the rescue to some extent, by scanning Facebook, Twitter, and so forth (though what this could do for the Blackberry communications favored in some of the recent UK riots is not completely clear to me) to look for occurrence and higher frequencies of specific store mentions. We may have to get used to spontaneous store closings or restricted access to retail outlets as and when untoward social media activities alert retailers and law enforcement of impending flash mob robberies. I guess this is just another unforeseen and (this time) unpleasant side effect of instant communication and ubiquitous networking!

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