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Following its third night of widespread rioting, looting, burning buildings and overall chaos, the world has witnessed London near anarchy and undergoing what has been called “the worst unrest in memory” (according to the New York Times) in the wake of what started as a peaceful protest held outside a local police station in response to the controversial police killing of Mark Duggan. I’m not going to debate the discussion around the shooting or whether riots are ever warranted. Rather my stance is centered on the criticism of social media platforms and Blackberry Messaging (BBM). In the midst of crisis, people naturally look for people or something to hold responsible, and it’s no different here.
This isn’t unlike the use of social media in Egypt, Lybia and Syria to combat their dictatorial governments. Or the uproar resulting from the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California and the Vancouver riots in June around the Stanley Cup finals. Similarly, London citizens began voicing their fury via the BBM private messaging application, Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms over Duggan’s death, expressing views that he was unfairly targeted, which spiraled out of control to physical violence.
As Matthew Ingram acknowledged in his GigaOm post yesterday, riots like these have been happening for centuries – long before social platforms and smartphones were even a glimmer of our imagination. We can’t blame social platforms or BBM. That said, while real-time social media and mobile platforms like BBM have their benefits, they certainly can be used to pour oil on the flames, and in the case of London, to coordinate gatherings and lootings for the riots, and fuel anger upon seeing the gut-wrenching brutality taking place in the city on YouTube and other video platforms that nauseates me just thinking about it. Not to mention people wanting to be around the hysteria to capture content and promote it on social media platforms and with friends.
Yes, real-time social media lacks the control mainstream media outlets have over the messages being communicated to the public, and immensely increases the ability for people to communicate quickly and easily. But we can’t lose sight of the positive – during the Haiti crisis, the Red Cross text message campaign raised tens of millions of dollars, and the revolutionary change in Egypt brought upon by people leveraging Twitter and Facebook. Surrounding the situation in London, #RiotCleanUp is picking up steam in the Twittersphere, in effort to bring London citizens together and establish a community to reclaim the city. @RiotCleanup has built nearly 80,000 followers in about 10 hours, and the London Cleanup Facebook page currently has 14,942 “likes.” People are leveraging the highly spreadable, heavily trafficked platforms to mobilize cleanups and instill hope and a sense of community among Londoners.
Social media and technology is what we make of it, and can level the playing field and enable people to peacefully have a voice when used right. London isn’t the first and won’t be the last uprising we see of this sort. It’s on you and me, and everyone around us, to educate and facilitate positivity out of these innovative tools and platforms that didn’t exist centuries before.
We wish our colleagues across the pond, friends and families well and that they stay safe in the midst of the riot clean up…
Tweets Generated Using #RiotCleanUp
Talk of #LondonRiots Unfolds on Twitter (generated via Topsy)