Think flash mobs are innocent fun?  Well if you’re in Illinois, proceed with caution.  The Illinois legislature recently passed a bill which provides tougher punishments for people whose social media posts result in flash mobs.  The bill was recently signed into law by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

The new law is intended to reduce violent events in Chicago, particularly the areas along Michigan Avenue, an area well known for high end stores and shops.  This area has recently been the site of flash mobs, resulting in robberies, stopped traffic, and frightened bystanders. 

The new law, SB 1005, provides that when a defendant is convicted of “attempted mob action, solicitation to commit mob action, or conspiracy to commit mob action” where the criminal object of the actions are “mob action” under  Section 25-1 of the Criminal Code of 2012, the court is entitled to extend the term sentence to three to six years.   Previously, the punishment for inciting violence through social media posts carried a maximum sentence of only three years in prison. 

Supporters of the law believe it will reduce violence in the city, and is necessary for reducing criminal activity.  Illinois Representative Ken Dunkin, explained, “These are new times where people are using electronic mechanisms to communicate to commit crimes in our neighborhoods.  .. when criminals change with the times we have to adjust ourselves accordingly.”  Similarly, Representative Christian Mitchell, who sponsored the bill, agreed, explaining, the law gives police the “ability to keep up with the changing times.”  Mitchell went on to cite the increased prevalence of social media among gangs for organizing purposes, and suggested this bill would provide a means to reduce the threat.

Opponents, by contrasts, think the law may punish accidental offenders who end up caught in the flash mob’s path, or who post something on a social networking site which has unintended consequences.  Furthermore, they argue the law will have limited impact on reducing violence, and will result in increased costs as a result of the longer jail sentences.

The law is emblematic of the increasing regulation of social media in the United States in recent months.