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'Flash robs': Are they the race riots of the Internet age?

Black youths have been primary participants in many 'flash robs' – thefts organized on Twitter and Facebook. Some bloggers see a racial element, but many experts disagree.

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Angry and out of work, some black American youth are finding a new outlet for their frustration: “flash robs.”

Flash robs are a criminal twist on “flash mobs” – the spontaneous gatherings that use messages on Twitter and Facebook to organize. Instead of congregating to sing Christmas carols or hold political protests, however, flash robs are organized to rob a store in a quick and sometimes large lightning raid.

They have occurred in Washington, Las Vegas, Chicago, and elsewhere. And in many cases, they have been dominated by African-American youths.

In some conservative circles of the blogosphere, flash robs have become a symbol of a nascent race war in America – Internet-era replays of the race riots of the 1960s and ‘70s. In one case, a flash rob participant reportedly yelled: "We need to kill all the white people around here!"

But experts suggest African-American participation in flash robs is merely the latest manifestation of decades-old discontent within the community, brought to a boil by the current economy.

"If there is some racial tension there, that fits ... into a pattern of very similar kinds of public disturbances, from peaceful to riots that we've seen occur in the Middle East and in Paris,” says Christopher Ferguson, who studies violent behavior in youths at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. “You take a group of young men, you don't give them jobs or much to do, you cut them off from the traditional avenues of advancement in society, and they get" upset.

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