Friday, March 15, 2013

Assignment 2: Collective Intelligence

FIrst off, here is my Pinterest board for this Assignment.

Howard Rheingold's notion of "smart mobs" examines the intelligent, ultra-efficient collective actions of networked communities. Over the past decade since he first published his book, smart mobs have flourished. The example that is referred to often is the take down of Filipino President Joseph Estrada in 2001. Since then, we have been witness to smart mobs of different shapes and sizes - Arab Springs, student protest in Chile, voting documentation in Nigeria, Occupy movement, flash mobs, and even community-level events like Critical Mass. Clay Shirky does an excellent job in his TED talk about how citizens can collectively engage in politics in a meaningful way using the social platforms to connect, report, and document. He emphasizes that the power is with the people and "media is global, social, ubiquitous, and cheap". This creates a fertile landscape for people to come together quickly and efficiently.

Source: via Sylvia on Pinterest

Rheingold notes that smart mobs do not have a pre-determined agenda - subversive, dark, or otherwise (Rheingold, 2003). A violent example of a smart mob was the London riots that took place in August 2011. What started out as a peaceful protest escalated into a violent situation involving shooting, torching, looting, and more. While authorities were keeping an eye on Facebook and Twitter, participants were using BBM, Blackberry's free and secure text messaging service to communicate with each other.

Source: via Sylvia on Pinterest

For a non-violent example, I thought I'd pin a story from my hometown, Vancouver. The downtown core was left in bad shape following the Stanley Cup riot in 2011 (an embarrassing reason to riot, by the way). Locals were infuriated and wanted to do something to "save the city". Overnight, 17,000 people joined the Vancouver Clean Up initiative on Facebook and people were on the streets cleaning as of 5am the next morning. This mob also wrote heart-felt messages on a giant wall, which became an exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver. 

Bringing it back to Clay's lecture, there was one point he made that resonated strongly with me. Smart mobs, collective action, and participatory culture share a common assumption - that we're all in this together.


Breaking News. UK Riots. BBC News. Retrieved from:

Rheingold, H. (2003). Smart mobs. Networklogic-15 Demos. Retrieved from

Robinson, M., Kane, L., Duggan, E., Law, S. (2011, June 11). Vancouverites fight back against rioters through social media. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (2009). How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history. TED. Retrieved from


  1. Sylvia, thanks for the range of really interesting examples. Shirky is an engaging presenter whose stories dramatically prove his points. For so long we had no way to easily *see* the injustice in the world be it a natural disaster or political injustice. Web 2.0 puts a dent in the old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” and holds all governments much more accountable. This is good. Shirky’s closing statement asks us to consider how we can make best use of this medium? When I consider the global collective fundraising effort after the disasters in Haiti, Thailand, or recently Hurricane Sandy I feel proud of our fellow human beings because as you emphasized “we are all in this together”.

    The London Riots is also a great example to underscore the nefarious use of the internet for collective action. At the conclusion of Rheingold’s video on SmartMobs delivered at MIT in 2002, he takes a question on the terrorism angle regarding Al Qaeda (9-11 then still very fresh) and his response was very good – he reminds the audience that the printing press didn’t create democracy or science – it simply enabled it. He is optimistic that the use of the internet for good will outweigh the evil. Poor Blackberry, it was not a good year for them in so many different ways – not a great news story to associate your brand with.

    The Vancouver Stanley Cup riots article was so interesting in its comparison of post-riot police tactics in 1994 to those in 2011/2012. It is another Shirky support point that people will do what is easy with their technology. Our phones didn’t have cameras in them back in 1994 – but in 2011 -- who doesn’t have a camera? I remember the reporting on the riots, it was heart breaking to hear how innocent people were beaten while trying to protect other people’s property, and upholding their values by trying to doing the right thing. The riots are an example of what “dumb mobs” can do (ha ha) but also a feel good story of the community coming together to clean up and hold people accountable. The riots were a tragedy of the commons – imagine the cost to find and convict the suspects for the VPD and the legal system to bring the idiots to justice. It’s been 2 years and its still ongoing. The City of Vancouver could have done so many other great things with that money for their citizens. I also noticed four different social media sites at the end of the article to organize the clean-up and share evidence to bring on justice. More great uses of social media.

  2. I thought you provided great resources for the topic of smart mobs and social media Slyvia. Shirkey provided great examples of the connected landscape that we now see. I thought his discussion on Chinese censorship, and The Great Fire Wall of China was a solid example of a market closed to mass communication, becoming radicalized and moved toward non-censorship. It makes me wonder what impact global release of the video and photographic "images" of Tien An Men square had on the generations to follow. Shirkey address that question somewhat as he discusses censorship on the anniversary of Tien An Men Square, but I still wonder if this event, and these images were the ripening for a technological movement waiting in arms? In any event, the social media movement has created some huge problems for the Chinese government in it's attempts to continue to repress and censor their citizens.

    Your sources on smart mobs that coalesce to riot demonstrate what a difficult challenge we have in positive and negative effects of social media. Rheingold really captures this duality when he discusses netwars.
    The Vancouver riots were most memorable to me as citizens aided police in using their devices to capture images of rioters that were used to arrest and convict the perpetrators. As powerful as these devices were to gather a destructive mob, it became an even more powerful a tool for respectful citizens.

    The source on the London riots was also interesting in the application of social media and participatory culture. I agree with Teresa that they should be renamed. Perhaps "media mobs" is more appropriate, because they certainly are not "smart" in a positive connotation. The secure networks that Blackberry utilizes have been a real asset when used as intended. Even in instances where securing individual privacy against government authority has arisen, RIM has proven to be effective in maintaining a secure network. Case in point, RIM versus the UAE ( Blackberries have been favored by law enforcement because of their secure networks, but the mobs seem to have tremendous collective intelligence, and are using the same weapons against the police. I guess that's why Rheingold calls these mobs the "killer apps...of tomorrow".