new-model flash mobs

IN AN OBSCURE 1973 STORY titled “Flash Crowd,” the science-fiction writer Larry Niven describes how an argument at a shopping mall, which happened to be covered by a news crew, swells into a riot. The broadcast riot in turn attracts the attention of other people, who use the widely available technology of the teleportation booth to swarm first that event—thus intensifying the riot—and then other breaking events. One character in Niven’s story, articulating the police view, says, “We call them flash crowds, and we watch for them.”

More than three decades later, in August 2003, at the Sawgrass Mills shopping mall in Sunrise, Florida, a group of thirty people who had assembled at a predetermined spot were given cards with a specific set of instructions: Exchange dollar bills with one another, then drop them on the ground, presumably to be picked up by passing shoppers. But the dollar drop

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