It is unnerving to hear that social media helped coordinate the riots in London and other British cities. This reflects how the technology has facilitated the establishment of a strong gang culture. Interestingly, rioters showed clear preference for certain technologies over others. Whilst Facebook and Twitter were used initially, Blackberry Messenger soon became the most popular and was used more than Facebook or Twitter for riot organisers to communicate. Its popularity in the riots is not surprising considering they are free, instant, and not instantly traceable. This makes them a highly attractive method of communication for rioters who aim to convey very specific information to effectively organise the riots.
The drastic rioting escalation that social media facilitated even caused David Cameron to call for a clampdown on these websites. Unsurprisingly, opposition followed in response to his efforts. I agree that the clamp-down on social media is not a productive solution. It has a negative impact upon free speech. Besides it does little to solve the root cause of the riots. A clampdown could also make life more difficult for those using social media as information portals of where the riots are taking place in their efforts to keep safe.
On the other hand, social media has also been the driver in clean up campaigns. It began with a Twitter user suggesting a clean-up attempt following the London riots. Various groups have since been set-up to support clean-up efforts in cities across the country. Unlike efforts to organise the riots, Twitter and Facebook have been most popular for these clean-up initiatives. The sites have rapidly mobilised thousands of users to help clean-up the streets, help shopkeepers, and demonstrate solidarity against those disrupting their communities.
Even the police made use of social media during this turbulent time. The Greater Manchester Police began tweeting the identities of people convicted of criminal damage and disorder during the riots in Manchester.
Overall, I think the use of social media in the London riots to both positive and negative ends demonstrates much. It shows the widespread use of social media across various echelons of society. It illustrates the power of the technology to mobilise individuals committed to a common cause. Nonetheless, using social media to rally initiatives and generate support is not novel to the recent riots in the UK. It has been successfully used in various protests and campaigns to activate change across the world since the 1990s. Whilst evaluating the merits of social media’s recent use is inevitable to result in debate, it certainly proves that social media is and remains an ever more powerful tool.
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