Fictional story of a flash mob gone terribly wrong

Tom Scott's Ignite London talk "Flash Mob Gone Wrong" is a fictionalized account of just how badly a flash mob could go. It's got an eerie ring of plausibility, largely because each of the steps leading up to the disastrous ending actually happened, just not all together. It's a freaky way to spend five minutes.

Flash Mob Gone Wrong by Tom Scott, Ep 77


  1. The book I’m currently reading has a pivotal scene that results in a combo of flash mob (and other participants) combining with police involvement to alter the course of events (not giving the book title away to avoid spoilers). I’ve noticed an appearance of mobs in a few other short stories and at least one other novel over the past year. So, I guess we’ve gotten comfy with the idea that they will happen, and not always go well.

  2. Shades of ‘Little Brother’, another story where flash mobs play an important role in the everlasting battle between the peasants and their overlords.

  3. Sounds like someone finally reread Niven’s “The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club”.

    Brief Summary: Cheap and quick transportation and publicity combine to cause massive flashmobs. Needless to say, they are exploited by a bunch of crooks and conmen.

  4. The societal and information flow aspects of Flash Mobs gone wrong were all worked out by Larry Niven a long time ago: it’s just that, for better and for worse, we don’t have the teleportation technology from his fictional Known Space universe.

    1. (and to Anon #3)
      Hey guys – had a house guest this weekend. Just saw your responses.

      Nope, sorry. Wrong story, wrong author. I realize that the idea has appeared (for quite some time) in writing, I was just noting that I’d been seeing it a lot lately. The book I’m referring to was originally published last year. The event included all takes places in a real space public environment and minus some biotech (not related to the event or its calamitous conclusion) it could occur as written – but it’s on a local, not global scale.

      I agree with Anon #14 that the information is presented as “could happen any moment” but the resources are from widely varied spaces and times, and so it is in effect more an artistic performance of a short fictional piece (a.k.a. “bullshit”)

  5. In Philadelphia, there was actually a recent rash of “flash mob” crimes whereas people used social networking to meet up and commit sudden large scale disruption (or a vandalism/disorderly conduct sort) and then take off. It annoys me to no end that a great tool for harmless pranking (i.e., let’s all fifty of us act like statues in the mall for five minutes) got used for something so antithetical to the clever and benign nature of its origins. It’s like finding out that your Winnie-the-Pooh viewmaster has been used for looking at pr0n.

  6. Why am I (not?) seeing plain clothes police agitators disrupting the crowd and starting the riot while an anxious government stands ready to react with laws forbidding assembly and limiting communication?

  7. This guy used to be president of my students’ union a few years back. Nice to see him still getting up to cool stuff.

  8. What a Debbie Downer. In my version the girl comes outside, sings Miracles by ICP and they all go for pints.

  9. awesome.thnx for posting.
    also..loved this form of story telling. its like a combined digital storymaster…very cool.

  10. He presents well. But it’s total bullshit.

    One most egregious displays of selection bias I’ve ever seen. And his sources are from all over the place and at different times. Look at the pie chart. One of the slices is from 1971. And what about the hundreds of thousands of flashmobs and youtube and 4chan postings that don’t result in invasion of privacy and violence. I’m more worried about being dealt 5 consecutive straight flushes in poker. And perhaps most importantly there’s no takeaway message. Nothing within reason could have been done to prevent any part of fictional the scenario he described.

    A compelling but ultimately misleading work of fiction. Sorry Tom if that was harsh.

    1. The “1971” is the year of the UK statute that was fictionally broken by x% of those arrested. Pay attention!

    2. You’re missing the point of his talk. He wasn’t trying to be predictive, he was asking the audience to be introspective.

      He wasn’t trying to say that the event he described was going to happen, or that it was even likely. He was describing an event that was technically possible and asking the audience to think about their reaction to it.

      The point of his talk was that if this happened, not that it will happen, we would take it in stride, which is not something that would have happened ten years ago.

  11. Does anybody really think the crowd would form that quickly despite no actual event at the address, and then suddenly turn to violence? I don’t see it. Why did he bother ending the story with some kind of implausible cautionary tale against all the things I thought he was saying are kinda cool..?

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