Violent smart mobs

“Smart mobs” are already here. But as Howard Rheingold has been saying, the “smart mob” phenomenon isn’t always benign — like Tokyo teenagers moving about downtown like amoebas — or pro-democratic, as with anti-WTC protestors using texting to coordinate their actions.

Mobs are, well, mobs, and frequently rather scary forces — so the idea of them suddenly gaining powerful new ways to organize is not necessarily good. Consider the recent riots around the Miss World pageant:

At least 12 people have been killed in the Nigerian city of Kaduna after protests against next month’s Miss World beauty competition descended into bloody violence. …

Protests started after the newspaper ThisDay published an article which said that the Prophet Mohammed would probably have chosen to marry one of the contestants if he had witnessed the beauty pageant, which Nigeria is hosting next month. …

The BBC’s Yusuf Sarki Muhammad says that local mosques had been calling for action against the paper and said that some people were first alerted to the article by text messages being sent to their mobile phones.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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