Globe Editorial

Carson Beach: Putting the 'mob' in 'flash mob'

June 2, 2011

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Whether the hordes of rowdy youths who descended on Carson Beach last weekend were gang members or simply teens with interpersonal conflicts, the melees demonstrated how important it is for police to understand and manage social media. As notable as the mobs’ size, after all, was the way they came about: Police believe the teenagers gathered, by the hundreds, after getting text messages or reading postings on Facebook.

It goes to show that assembling a destructive mob is now easier than ever — and policing needs to evolve accordingly. State Police say they have now increased patrols in the area. They are working with other law enforcement to learn about gang rivalries and events that might prompt retribution. And they are scanning social media sites for clues about gang habits, a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Police in Boston and beyond need a sophisticated understanding of how gangs, and teenagers in general, use social media to spread information and goad each other on.

Just as police adjust their staffing when sports teams are on the brink of championships, they should be analyzing Facebook and Twitter for a sense of what’s to come in local streets and parks. Anticipating an unruly mob goes a long way toward keeping it under control.