Social Media and the UK Riots

There has been much speculation recently as to the exact role Social Media played in the Riots, which spread quickly across the nation, causing up to £200million in damage Рall as a result of a peaceful protest that turned bad.

In Tottenham, London on Saturday, 6th August, tensions were building in the community after an incident involving a local resident and the Police. Initial reports suggested that shots may have been exchanged, however the injury sustained by a Police officer was found to have been caused by a Police-issued gun.

Mark Duggan, a local resident, had been shot dead. The people of Tottenham felt many questions needed to be answered of the Police, and launched a peaceful protest outside a police station – this escalated to violence and destruction and lit the fuse on what would turn to nationwide rioting, looting and violence.

It was believed that early on, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was used as a method of planning and spreading information among individuals, as this method of communication was private and relatively secure. Groups soon sprung up on Facebook, and discussions also took place over Twitter. Events such as ‘Smash Northwich Down’ were created, openly inviting and inciting violence at predetermined times and locations. The Police were able to take swift action based on this posted information, and tough sentencing was delivered to those found guilty of inciting rioting and violence.

It’s important to remember, Social Media, and the networks associated with them, are simply tools. When somebody gets stabbed, do you blame the knife?These tools can be used for good as well as bad. A very simple analogy that I think sums things up perfectly is comparing Social Media to a knife. Now a knife is very good at cutting things, whether it be chopping vegetables, carving meat or stabbing someone. When somebody gets stabbed, do you blame the knife? No! You blame the person who used the knife – Don’t blame the tool, blame the user.

To me, Social Media played a much more important part than that the media had sensationalised – the sense of community, charity and co-operation that was to follow meant that people were using Social Media to plan and co-ordinate events where huge numbers of people came together to clean up riot-affected areas and provide assistance in many ways to those affected. Topics such as RiotCleanup, CleanUpLondon and RiotRebuild became Twitter trends, and people from far and wide made donations, sent food, clothes, building materials and all manner of other goods to help those in need.

It also played a role in quelling any rumours that had been spread across Social Media, the ability for misinformation and lies to spread quickly had become apparent, with places such as Portsmouth and Southampton supposedly coming under attack and causing wide discussion over Twitter.  Nothing of the sort ever happened there. Local users took to Twitter to calm concerned users who had heard of disorder and destruction hitting their home-town, with very specific rumours being posted. They also took action to identify those behind the misinformation and rumours. Four arrests were made by Hampshire Police.

Hampshire Police and Portsmouth City Centre Policing Unit both used their Twitter accounts incredibly successfully to confirm and reassure people that there had been no reports of any disorder, and it was perfectly safe to go about their usual activities.

With the talk of the UK Government taking steps to deny access to BBM and Social Media sites in future cases of disorder – I think they are seriously underestimating Social Media’s power for good.

Was your area affected by rioting? Do you think Social Media can be to blame? What good have you seen come using Social Media in the aftermath?

1 comment

  • Heather August 19, 2011

    The riots were very sad to watch, and probably terrifying for the victims.
    Just like anything else in life, I think that SM should be used responsibly, for good causes over bad. Officials and Govt’s still have to protect the safety of the general population. People have never been able to communicate so freely so assembling crowds has never been easier… and inciting chaos in a group of people swept up in the event endangers others. I would never use a SM site to promote or take part in anything like this ever and I’d hate to have a few bad apples wreck it for everyone else..

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