A Small Step in a Big Direction

imagesIllinois Governor Pat Quinn just signed Senate Bill 1005 into law.  Its purpose is to discourage attempts at creating malicious flash mobs through electronic communications.  It went into effect January 1, 2014.  The bill overwhelmingly passed the Illinois House and State Senate.

The new law calls for lengthier incarceration if you’re found guilty of using electronic communications to solicit or commit the offense of “mob action.”  It seeks to address the growing problem of social media being intentionally used to instigate hostile flash mob gatherings.  Its current focus revolves around issues of looting and random violence.

SB 1005 came about in response to the socially media-driven mobs that spontaneously terrorized Chicago’s famous MAG Mile in March of 2013.  The Magnificent Mile is a prestigious section of Michigan Avenue.  It is home to vast retail stores, museums, restaurants and some of the tallest buildings in the United States.

While this legislation does address the issue of violent mobs, it fails to focus on the more serious prospect of targeted human stampedes.

A little background is helpful.

While I agree with the general sentiment of SB 1005, it fails to take into account the possibility of mass numbers of people falling prey to a deliberate hoax.  The primary concern here is an artificially generated stampede or dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  Hypothetically speaking, if unexplainable human stampedes were to suddenly take place in large football stadiums (say, for instance in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston), it’s reasonable to assume that millions of people would head straight to social media, particularly facebook and twitter.  Cities hosting overlapping events would immediately be impacted by the ensuing viral blitzkrieg, or “info-bomb.”

People who embrace social media often fancy themselves as “renegade journalists.”  They’ll post a wide variety of information: celebrity deaths, sports scores, local traffic and weather updates, etc.  But they seem especially drawn toward showcasing anything in the realm of “live” or “breaking” news.  Naturally, if you wish to be the center of attention, that’s where the action is.

Social media is particularly vulnerable to the hoax culture because there’s an inherent level of trust among established contacts.  If such an unfathomable catastrophe were to transpire, I seriously doubt the new breed of social media junkies would stand idly by.  They’d be motivated to take action.  Many would call and text.  Others would post and tweet.  Consequently, the situation would spiral out of control as larger concentrations of people are bombarded with threatening information.  In specific locations, these people would panic… and they would run.

The notion of retroactively seeking punishment against potentially millions of people who unknowingly contributed to real-world human stampedes is a ludicrous one.  I imagine the Illinois courts would have a difficult time determining exactly who, among the millions, acted with deliberate intent.  And while I go to great lengths to avoid the “c” word (conspiracy), I would encourage you to think about it from that perspective.  Nobody knew what was happening, but somehow, everybody was in on it.  SB 1005 is a micro-targeted solution to a much broader problem of tremendous scope and magnitude.

There’s only one universal solution to this issue.  And that’s awareness.  While I salute the Illinois legislature for being proactive, they need to acknowledge that this is but one tiny aspect of a much larger civil rights issue involving the right to defend oneself.  The concept of an artificially generated, or information-based stampede, sets an expansive precedent.  Tentative, piecemeal legislation is not the answer.  Politicians and those in charge of venue security need to acknowledge that the best solution involves an all-inclusive acceptance of how cellular communications, social media and the prospect of a malicious hoax present a dangerously unresolved situation.

Of course it all starts with raising awareness.  People have a fundamental right to know… that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.  A legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.  What percentage of the population is currently aware of this?  It’s hard to say.  Tops… maybe an honest 5%?  Do your own research.  Just ask anyone.  They’ll all say the same thing.  “Whoaa… I never thought of that.”

There was a famous rapper who died in 1996, just before widespread cell phone use came of age.  Ironically, his words still resonate in 2014.

Don’t believe everything you hear.  Real eyes, Realize, Real lies. – Tupac Shakur