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Gov. Pat Quinn signs crackdown on social media ‘flash mob’ attacks

Gov. PQuinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: June 20, 2013 4:49PM

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation on Saturday that doubles the maximum prison term — to six years — for anyone who uses social media and text messaging to organize violent “flash mobs” like those that have occurred on North Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile and in other tourist areas.

The legislation was in response to recent incidents in Chicago that left business owners fearful that tourists and others would be scared off.

Quinn called the use of technology to organize such attacks a “troubling trend.”

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), the new law’s sponsor, said Saturday the law aims to keep up with the times.

“In the city of Chicago, gangs have changed,” Mitchell said. “They are now using social networks to organize and mobilize violent activity. The intent of this legislation is to update our laws to reflect how people are using technology to organize crimes in our neighborhoods.”

Opponents of the law, though, said they worry that innocent people could get swept up in a flash mob and then be hit with a harsh penalty. They also said it would be difficult for authorities to prove.

The law takes effect immediately and revises earlier guidelines that allowed judges to sentence offenders to anywhere from one to three years in prison. That range now changes to three to six years.

Police say groups of young people used Facebook and Twitter, as well as text messaging, to organize and publicize a mob action along North Michigan Avenue in March. They say several hundred people — most of them teenagers — ran up and down the upscale shopping area, yelling and bumping into people.In a separate incident, police said a woman was attacked and her purse stolen after a group used social media to promote a flash mob on a train in downtown Chicago.

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