Mob behavior is like quicksilver. It is the event where a group of humans will assemble for some reason, then ebb and flow, then explode in activitythat is triggered by a few crowd members who manage to convince the rest of the crowd that aggresive action is called for.
The vast majority of the crowd may be present for non violent reasons and with no intention of engaging in out of control activities, but no one is immune from being swept up in the sudden chaos of determination, movement and specific action.
The term "herd behavior" is applied to the mob, which in most definitions forms to conduct violent behavior. With no immediately apparent cause or reason, it might appear that mindless, random violence or group action breaks out on its own, but there is a definite set of triggers or triggering individuals, and there is reactive behavior.
It would seem that today's mob behavior is nothing new. But there are new concepts that apply to creating mobs, managing mobs, predicting mob behavior and analyzing events after they have occurred.
One new concept is in the type of mob. The "flash mob", where mostly young people will appear suddenly as the result of well coordinated instructions to appear at predetermined locations. There are varying initial intentions. Some flash mobs suddenly appear and engage in some form of skit or entertainment, then leave as quickly as they came.
Other flash mobs have a variety of intent and are well coordinated and organized. They form at a predesignated location in order to conduct peaceful protests. Such protests can evolve into specific unlawful but nonviolent group behavior, such as blocking of streets, or freeway entrances.
The more frightening form of flash mob involves relatively small, well organized and violent groups of individuals who appear specifically to attack individuals, then escape before they can be identified or apprehended.
But other flash mobs have no overall goal, intent or purpose other than success in getting large groups of people to appear at a designated location and to socialize. There is little or no notice for authorities, and there is no particular reason beyond socializing. These gatherings are the most vulnerable to conversion into mobs when fights break out or some other triggering act occurs.
Individuals might later recount details of a particular statement was made or a fight that broke out, but the statement or fight does not explain why violence spread to parts of the crowd that were blocks away.
It is usually the case that several instigators or triggering individuals are present in the crowd. These individuals can be part of the organized effort, law enforcement presence and behavior, or there may be individuals who get a thrill from causing disruption. But the entire crowd does not know this, and will still erupt in violence or action when triggered to do so.
Another new concept lies in advanced communications technology, where large groups of individuals can be contacted, given assembly instructions and other information through cell phones and chat rooms. When dealing with young people, a small handful of "leaders" can control a huge mass of participants who are eager for something to do that resembles excitement, socializing and group activity, usually benign in intent, but potentially explosive in reality.
The new concepts in mob behavior thus include the problems of fast notification, rapid movement and assembly of large or well formed groups, combined with communications capabilities that rival those of the authorities. Flash mobs may overwhelm the capacity of law enforcement and other authority to anticipate and manage them, let alone apprehend the smaller, more well coordinated and fast moving groups.
Another new concept lies in the increasing presence of surveillance cameras and highly portable personal video and photo capabilities. The fact that just about anything that goes on has the potential to be recorded allows both law enforcement and citizen to produce records of the activity. This allows visual evidence, rather than unreliable anecdotal evidence to be used in post incident analysis and investigation.
Such technology also allows modeling and simulation of mob behavior that is based on real events and on facts about people and locations. The points where benign crowds transition into mobs, the triggering incidents or individuals, and the resulting activity can now be viewed, analyzed and used to make predictions. Models can be used to identify the ways in which these incidents develop and provide clues to preventing things from going out of control.
The final new concept involves great advancements in nonlethal technology that can disrupt the cycle or the effect of mob violence. There are nonlethal but debilitating gases, projectiles, sound and electrical forces, and even such exotic substances as "banana peel" fluid that makes it impossible to stand up. The ability to debilitate without lethality or serious injury is a great advancement in ability to disrupt the mob formation dynamic and in getting the participants to calm down or leave without further trouble.
The reality, however, is that mob behavior is as old as humanity. Group assembly is now rapid and can involve large numbers of people because of the latest in technology. At the same time, mob behavior may be better controlled with less damage, death and injury through the latest in technology.