Being a jerk online spills over into being a jerk in public!

It’s funny that, one of the great powers of the internet is anonymity. People write things online that they wouldn’t dare say face-to-face to anyone. They’d be too embarrassed to act like that in public, but because there is little or no consequence, this type of behavior runs rampant online. Now…what if all of a sudden those same people felt absolutely no shame and decided it was okay to act like that offline?

As students of advertising, one of the first things we learn is that, “The medium is the message.” This phrase was coined by Marshall McLuhan back in 1964. It could be taken any number of ways. I think it’s not about what we say, but how we say it. Last week, Market Street East in downtown Philly unraveled when roughly 150 kids got together and mayhem ensued. The incident was dubbed as a flash mob. What makes this particularly newsworthy was that it was organized via social media.

When I was a kid, I witnessed my fair share of “kids will be kids” shenanigans. At that age, kids already feel invincible—like they can do anything and nothing will happen. You can’t hit me, I’m just a kid! If you do hit me, my friends are right here to back me up. You may catch one of them or maybe even two of them, but no one can stop us all! This is the message of Twitter and of Facebook. If one account or group is shut down, another will spring up. There were a number of incidents on the day of the flash mob. On a typical day, one of those incidents could take place, but when they all happen at the same time…Wow! Those kids sent a strong message. With numbers, things escalate quickly.

I think it’s a natural progression. When someone is on the run, their goal is not only to get away, but also to not fit the description of however they looked when they committed their crime. The kids generally wear uniforms so it’s not hard for them to switcheroo a few hats, jackets, and book bags to blend in. They blend in by default.

They’ve taken their power of strength in numbers and paired it with anonymity. The city doesn’t have the resources to deal with things like this and technology is always 10 steps ahead of legislation. Flash mobs usually result in cool viral marketing or YouTube dance videos, but not this time. Social media may be creating a monster. (What do you think?) New York City had an infamous after school transit gang back in the 80’s. Their power was just the same as these kids today. They called themselves “Decepticons.” What do Decepticons do? They transform! Back then they used code words, but now we have Twitter, Facebook, and cell phone data plans. If the medium is truly the message, is there a medium out there that can counter this spillover of bold narcissism and mob rule?

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