The role of social media in the current riots across London and the UK has been mixed. Twitter, in particular, has had a lot of bad press due to reports that it allegedly played a part in inciting trouble. Unfortunately it’s a medium of communication to a mass audience and due to its public and searchable nature it is having the finger pointed at it for adding fuel to the fire. As social media is highly effective for bringing together groups of people to a common agenda, it has been deployed considerably over the past few days, BUT with a strong base using it for good rather than bad.
In June we wrote about the Stanley Cup hockey riots in Canada, and how the sheer outrage of the local communities that were affected resulted in a mass naming and shaming exercise on Facebook. Angry people were happy to call people out on contributing to the distressing and damaging events that rocked their city in spite of the relative transparency that doing so would result in (as tagging a person tells them that you have tagged them.)
If we look at social networks and break them down to their raw characteristics (scalable, persistent, replicable and searchable) they are perfect for disseminating information to a large group of people. In my opinion, over time, social media will play more of a positive role than a negative one in the riots.
I wanted to highlight the ways in which social networks have been and could be used to bring some justice to the bad things that have happened in the riots:
- Social networks for up to date news – mainstream news has its advantages over social networks for reliability and accuracy but social networks are direct forms of communication and you can very quickly find out what is going on, what areas in London to avoid and the difference in the opinions surrounding events, which allows you to make your own mind up about what is going on. There is a lot of speculation about whether the police were monitoring Twitter to find out more real time information. I would be inclined to believe they are but there is a lot of speculation about this: London riots: How social media real-time monitoring could have helped police, Met needs to start engaging better with Twitter rather than blame it for riots
- Social networks for identifying culprits – people who are stupid enough to post pictures of themselves, allow their picture to be taken or be involved in the riots should be caught, and in a similar way to the Canadian hockey riots communities are moving towards getting justice by identifying the culprits in leveraging the critical mass that social networks have. See for instance: www.londonrioters.co.uk, catch a looter, Self posting on Twitter
- Social networks for rebuilding communities – after the devastating mess that the rioters have left throughout affected communities in London and the UK people are already leveraging social media to arrange clean-up events across the country: residents using twitter to arrange a clean-up, Secret cinema are arranging clean-ups all over the country and even more residents organising clean-ups.
Ultimately social media has had both a negative and a positive effect in this situation but it’s clear that it is very powerful and ultimately it comes down to how people want to use it and what information they want to communicate.