Social media is a wonderful thing. It allows for instant, mass communication which can be an absolute god-send for marketers and sales people, but unfortunately also makes unlawful behaviour much easier to orchestrate on a large-scale. Over the course of the weekend a peaceful protest in London turned into a full-scale riot with shops, police vehicles and buses being set fire to, as well as widespread looting throughout Saturday night.
With smartphones and mobile devices in more and more hands, almost everyone has instant access to a whole world of up to date information. And some people are saying that mobile technology is to blame – well at least partially – for this weekend’s violence in London. It’s being suggested by politicians, media commentators and members of the police that the likes of Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger in particular had a role to play.
Many people who were either taking part in the protest or simply caught up in the events would have tweeted or updated various social networks with their thoughts and observations. We’ve already seen how social media can be used to organise mass gatherings and coordinated movement of people in Egypt during the so-called ‘Twitter Revolution” earlier this year, and the weekend’s events in London are not too dissimilar in terms of the use of technology. Trending and hashtags made it very easy for people to follow the events online, and also to know where to go and where to avoid.
For all of the use of social mediums for malevolent purposes, it does also make things easier to attempt to police. By knowing where people are planning to move to en mass, it gives emergency services and the authorities a better idea of where to deploy riot police, fire and rescue teams, paramedics etc. It also serves as a realtime source of information for those looking to evade any encounters with the demonstrators and rioters. For a more in-depth discussion on the role played in the Tottenham riots, read Iain Mackenzie‘s article on the BBC website.
**UPDATE – 24/08/11**
It must be pointed out that social media and modile technology was also hugely instrumental in the clear up efforts following the riots. You can read more here.
As well as this, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and BBM representatives are due to meet with the Home Secretary to discuss how to prevent their technology from being used to incite and organise further disturbances.