On March 1, 2018, a 19 year old female, identified only as Ye, found herself in big trouble with Chinese authorities in Haiting Bay, Sunya. Her crime? She posted a provocative video on the social media network Weibo, China’s twitter equivalent. The “who’s coming to get me… to have sex… for free” post of her wearing black lingerie in a Hilton hotel room quickly went viral. Surveillance video showed approximately 3,000 men unexpectedly arriving at the hotel, many going directly to room number 6316. The front desk of the hotel was also inundated with phone calls. People wanted to know if the offer was genuine.
After the commotion escalated beyond control, Miss Ye followed up the post with a denial, claiming the entire escapade was a joke. That she was only seeking to bolster her online following. But by then, the damage was done. Police arrested her on a charge of soliciting prostitution. She was fined $75 and sentenced to 15 days in jail.
While this may not have caused an actual human stampede in the general sense (no fatalities or injuries), it does speak to my larger concerns regarding the triggering of movement sparked by social media platforms. Similar instances happen all the time. Most of them encapsulating two other basic needs: money and food. Terms like cash mob, flash mob, geocaching (cellular scavenger hunts) were never really conceived of… until the internet and cell phone industry took hold. Protests and political uprisings are another area of concern as they’re often promoted on social media as well.
When I raise the issue of “artificially generated stampedes,” people tend to think quite linearly. Most envision a mass, unilateral dissemination of cellular bomb threats, leading to a panic and ensuing stampede. Something similar in nature to what recently transpired in Hawaii during January of 2018.
What people fail to take into account is the naivete of the general population. Not to mention a lack of awareness surrounding the hypothetical nature of this asymmetric cyber-threat. Few individuals are prepared for the possibility of a well-coordinated, malicious hoax. Why? Because the subject matter is generally unavailable for scrutiny.
There are an infinite number of ways to use wireless transmissions in an effort to convincingly encourage people to quickly move in a specific direction or to a fixed location. Cellular information can be uniquely tailored to induce panic in large, confined crowds. Government and/or private industry would be wise to get ahead of the curve on this one. The next venue might not be some hotel in southern China. It could very well be a professional football stadium or major league ballpark. And it might not be an accident. Even worse, it might not be a single location.
No realistic contingency plan currently exists for the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Mitigation, in and of itself, is not a viable option for preventing stampedes. Why? Because time is not a factor. Because there would be no time in your OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). Again, an artificially generated stampede is a real-world phenomenon that unfolds in real-time. The only realistic preventative strategy starts with making people aware of the threat itself.
And here’s something that virtually nobody, other than myself, has considered. The source of such nefarious, cellular information could be coming from those you implicitly trust — family and friends who’ve fallen for a targeted, electronic disinformation campaign. It’s the potential consequence of another new term we hear with increasing regularity. #fakenews