Social media to blame for London riots?

by Jenna Mclauchlan

As rioters continue to cause mayhem in London, people are looking to place blame on several social media sites for encouraging rioters to get involved. It is claimed that social media is being used to help the gangs of rioters to organise themselves and arrange meetings in different areas of London. This is one way that the violence is spreading across London and to other UK cities such as Birmingham and Leeds.

At first Facebook and Twitter were being blamed for facilitating the violence. People were posting pictures of themselves in front of burning cars and looting, and bragging about their achievements. The news surrounding the disorder spread fast on Twitter amongst micro-bloggers and people could hear about which areas the gangs were moving into.

Steve Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police has said:

“Social media and other methods have been used to organise these levels of greed and criminality.”

However, most Twitter users mounted an uprising against such behaviour and tweeted about their anger towards the riots. Lord Sugar commented:

“This has simply turned into a mass looting exercise to steal goods nothing at all to do with a protest.”

And Calvin Harris, considered a role model to youngsters, tweeted:

“ Imagine how the Olympics are gonna look next year…riot squad everywhere…who’s going to want to visit UK now…economy will be destroyed.”

Twitter users have now begun using the hashtag #riotcleanup to organise the clean-up of London’s streets. Many volunteers are going out of their way to help their communities recover from the worst rioting in decades.

There is now evidence to suggest that the BlackBerry smartphone’s messaging service was the main resource used by rioters to organise looting and violence. The BlackBerry handset is very popular amongst teenagers and the messaging service is instant and free. Another reason why it was used by gangs is because, unlike Twitter and Facebook, the messaging service is private, therefore authorities could not pre-empt the movements of the gangs. However the maker of BlackBerry, Research In Motion (RIM), have said “”We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can” and added that RIM complies with UK legislation on the interception of communication and co-operates fully with the Home Office, which suggests that the company will hand over private user messages to aid police investigations.

There have now been calls for RIM to shut down their BlackBerry Messenger service temporarily in order to prevent further riots from being organised.

What do you think about the role of social media in the London riots? Has it promoted rioting or given the public a forum to voice their disgust? Let us know your thoughts below.

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