Stuck in the middle
It is a platform that has publicised protests in the Arab world, spread riots across English cities, and even helped to coordinate a mass cleanup effort in the wake of London’s unrest. The UK riots have reminded the public of the power of social networking as a tool of instant mass communication. The British media have been vociferous about the role of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry in sparking unrest among youths intent on destruction.
It is not just crowd mentality, social problems or police actions that are being coined as the catalyst for London’s unrest: it is technology.
While the Daily Mail reports protesters were rallied through text messages, Twitter and Facebook, one constable speaking to the Evening Standard pointed the finger at video games in inciting violence: ‘When I was young it was all Pacman and board games. Now they’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves.’ The Sun writes rioters used Twitter to rally looting in Tottenham by encouraging their followers to join in the robbery of local businesses.
Meanwhile, The Guardian has led the debate for the role of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) in coordinating the riots. This is on the back of a recent Ofcom report which found almost half of British teenagers own a smartphone. The argument for BBM’s role in inciting the riots was so strong that, according to a Daily Telegraph report, BlackBerry manufacturer RIM is helping police investigations into disturbances coordinated over BBM.
Is it right to blame social networks for what we are witnessing on the newsreels? While Twitter has been slammed for its media-prescribed role in provoking the violence, today the platform has demonstrated its capacity as a force for good.
#riotcleanup is trending worldwide as Londoners use Twitter to coordinate a voluntary cleanup effort. Created this morning, @riotcleanup already has over 50,000 followers at the time of writing. Facebook groups including ‘Supporting the Met Police against the London riots’ and ‘Post Riot Clean-Up: Let’s Help London’ have gathered hundreds of thousands of followers within a matter of hours.
There’s undeniably a technology-fuelled method to the madness that has erupted in London. Yet it’s the force of the social network that has brought together its victims – ordinary people living in the cities – to repair the damage to their communities.