were the London riots powered by social media?

London Riots Google Mapsimage: verified locations of the London Riots on Google maps

You can always rely on a national crisis to fuel the social media flames. Two full days of London riots has resulted in many asking the question – what role has social media played in the orchestration of such mindless violence? It’s at times like these when we realise just how connected, mobile and real time the world has become – and the impact that online networks are now having on everything from culture through to politics.

It was shortly after the announcement of the death of Tottenham resident Mark Duggen that a Facebook page was created to mourn his loss and seek revenge on unfair police crimes (now with over 17,000 fans). The admin posts seem to consistently contradict each other from hour to hour and swing from requests to ‘stop the violence’ through to requests for ‘each and everyone of us to control our streets from London to Scotland beyond…” and to ‘stop police brutality’. The administrators of the page who claim to be ‘a group of activists in no way related to Mark’ are pretty open about their feelings towards the police with comments like ‘Police are Gangsters in uniforms’. There’s no doubt that the page was initially used to support the behaviour of those rioting with posts like: “please upload any pictures of videos you may have from tonight in Tottenham. Share it with people to send the message out as to why this has blown into a riot.”

London Riots Police Are Gangsters

London Riots Facebook Footage

It’s easy to see how a community facebook page in the context of a national crisis has the potential to empower people to pursue less than admirable actions. The question is how much of the blame should be attributed to social media?

London Riots take control of streets

Facebook wasn’t the only social media platform empowering the riots – Blackberry Messenger is said to have contributed on a larger scale. As the smartphone of choice for British teens, Blackberry Messenger (which allows users to send one-to-many text messages that are more difficult to trace than SMS messages) was used to broadcast messages encouraging the riots on Sunday.

One message is reported to have said:

“Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) fuck the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!”

So – clearly social media has played a part by enabling real-time communication between activists. I think I’m with Malcolm Gladwell on this one though when he says –

“these kinds of riots and uprisings have been happening for centuries, without the need for Twitter or Facebook or BlackBerry’s BBM. But while they may not cause revolutions, there’s no question that these kinds of mobile, real-time networks and technologies can help to fuel them when they occur.”

It would be fair to say that social media assisted the London Riots – but the jury’s out on who to blame.

Zoe Boalch

About Zoe Boalch

Zoë Boalch is co-founder of Contagious Agency. Zoë likes: hot chili, yoga, learning new stuff, positive people, taking risks Zoë dislikes: naysayers, grumpy people, rather large egos
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