The Changing Definition of "Flash Mob"

When most of us think of a flash mob, it's a big impromptu dance party, a spontaneous pillow fight or hundreds of people freezing in Grand Central Station. But lately, the media has been using the term to describe some much less enjoyable activities.

Consider this headline from USA Today: "'Flash mobs' pose challenge to police tactics." Or this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer last week: "Flash-mob violence raises weighty questions."

It's a big change for a term that was defined in the Oxford Concise Dictionary as an "unusual and pointless act," separate from the "smart mobs" that generally had more of a purpose. Gawker was among the blogs that seized on the use of the term, calling out the media for misusing a phrase that actually means "when several dozen aspiring standup comics use the internet to meet in a certain place to do a funky collaborative dance."

Lately, the term has been used to describe escalating violence in cities, especially Philadelphia.

After a series of violent attacks -- including some numbering in the hundreds -- Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter had to impose a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for the city's youth. In cities such as Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Chicago, groups organized online have flooded convenience stores and robbed them en masse. The term is even being used in London, where social media and texting played a large role in this summer's riots.

In an interview on Southern California's KPCC, author Howard Rheingold, who has written about smart mobs and other collective action, spoke to the changing nature of the flash mob. He pointed to collective action in Iran or Korea as a positive use of social media, while also acknowledging that it could be misused in some cases. But he stopped short of saying that the social media was at fault for the violence.

I think it's important to keep in mind that this new tool is kind of an accelerant, the way gasoline is an accelerant. if you can harness that ... and put your gasoline in an auto's engine then it can be beneficial. If you're going to splash it on a building and light a match, it's a problem. But it's not the fire itself, it's an accelerant.

Of course, the larger question for law enforcement officials is actually linking the violence to social media flash mobs. There is evidence that some of the so-called flash mobs were arranged over text or on a city bus, rather than being coordinated through the Internet. Regardless, Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey said in a chat with that he's most concerned with stopping the violence. As to the use of "flash mob," he said succinctly, "I prefer the term 'rampaging thugs.'"

Live Smarter
How to Spot the Convincing New Phishing Scam Targeting Netflix Users

Netflix may send customers the occasional email, but these messages will never ask you to provide them with personal or payment info. You'll want to keep this in mind if you encounter a new phishing scam that The Daily Dot reports is targeting the video streaming service's subscribers in Australia and the UK.

MailGuard, an Australian email security company, was the first to take notice of the fraudulent emails. While similar scams have targeted Netflix users in the past, this current iteration appears to be more convincing than most. At first (and perhaps even second) glance, the messages appear to be legitimate messages from Netflix, with an authentic-looking sender email and the company’s signature red-and-white branding. The fake emails don’t contain telltale signs of a phishing attempt like misspelled words, irregular spacing, or urgent phrasing.

The subject line of the email informs recipients that their credit card info has been declined, and the body requests that customers click on a link to update their card's expiration date and CVV. Clicking leads to a portal where, in addition to the aforementioned details, individuals are prompted to provide their email address and full credit card number. After submitting this valuable info, they’re redirected to Netflix’s homepage.

So far, it’s unclear whether this phishing scheme has widely affected Netflix customers in the U.S., but thousands of people in both Australia and the U.K. have reportedly fallen prey to the effort.

To stay safe from phishing scams—Netflix-related or otherwise—remember to never, ever click on an email link unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s valid. And if you do end up getting duped, use this checklist as a guide to safeguard your compromised data.

[h/t The Daily Dot]

Weather Watch
Heated Mats Keep Steps Ice-Free in the Winter

The first snow of the season is always exciting, but the magic can quickly run out when you remember all the hazards that come with icy conditions. Along with heating bills, frosted cars, and other pains, the ground develops a coat of ice that can be dangerous for pedestrians and drivers alike. Outdoor steps become particularly treacherous and many people find themselves clutching their railings for fear of making it to the bottom headfirst. Instead of putting salt down the next time it snows, consider a less messy approach: heated mats that quickly melt the ice away.

The handy devices are made with a thermoplastic material and can melt two inches of snow per hour. They're designed to be left outside, so you can keep them ready to go for the whole winter. The 10-by-30-inch mats fit on most standard steps and come with grips to help prevent slipping. A waterproof connector cable connects to additional mats so up to 15 steps can be covered.

Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a price: You need to buy a 120-volt power unit for them to work, and each mat is sold separately. Running at $60 a mat, the price can add up pretty quickly. Still, if you live in a colder place where it's pretty much always snowing, it might be worth it.


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