Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Freaking out about flash mobs and the war on children

I heard a story on WHYY this morning that a Philadelphia city official wants to restrict the use of Septa TransPasses to before 4:30pm to stop students from being able to cause mischief after school. It turns out this story is true. City Controller Alan Butkovitz yesterday called for a crackdown on student TransPasses. He thinks that the TransPasses, which allow students to travel an unlimited number of times in center city between 5:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., let students travel to areas to cause mischief and especially refers to flash mobs.

The other half of the story is that a flash mob of 150 students gathered on Tuesday Feb 16th for a snowball fight got out of hand and resulted in vandalism and theft in Center City Philadelphia. Apparently there have been several flash mobs in Philadelphia supposedly organized using social media. So many that Philadelphia police and some council members are suggested that any online media social network be sued if it is found they were used to organize the mobs. From the article:
Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney both witnessed the chaos from their City Hall offices and called the act "appalling" and "disheartening" in a letter to Mayor Nutter and Council President Anna Verna.

In the letter, Kenney and DiCicco requested "cooperation in pursuing the possibility of a lawsuit against Facebook, MySpace and Twitter" - if it turns out that the teens arranged their mob gathering through one or more of the Web sites.

Good luck with that.

In a small victory for the vast majority of students (57,600 vs. ~200 at flash mob) that were not involved, though City Controller Butkovitz urged SEPTA general manager Joseph M. Casey to curtail the time on the TransPasses, Casy retorted (from the article)
In a letter responding to the controller, Casey wrote that there was no "correlation between the issuance of TransPasses and the incident involving the students who rampaged through Center City last week."
He also said:
In a statement, SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey disagreed with Butkovitz's correlation and said school attendance has increased, truancy has decreased and juvenile vandalism on SEPTA is down 50 percent since institution of the TransPass in summer 2007.
Restricting the passes punishes the many for the few that are committing crimes and is a classic tactic in the war on children that sees all children as scary out of control things to be controlled rather than taught. I would even contend that not even all who attended the flash mob were guilty of bad behavior. I also doubt that suing the social media sites is a workable idea. If in fact they know that the mobs are planned that way then monitoring the sites is the approach to use. The groups essentially announce the mob on the network, find a way to get on the distribution list. Be clever and thoughtful, rather than reactive and fearful.


Anonymous said...

Is it juvenile of me to point out that Butkovitz may be still reacting to a lifetime of abuse heaped on him because of his last name?

He may still hear the taunts of his classmates in the dark hours of the night - "BUTTkovitz, BUTTkovitz" - "I'm gonna kick your BUTTkovitz" - "I like big BUTTkovitz, and I cannot lie"

Richard said...

More info on the probably not twitter inspired "flash mobs".