Social media has been in the spotlight especially from a political standpoint ever since Obama mobilised its powers to assist with his election win. Unfortunately, this week in the UK, its demonic powers have been demonstrated with riots and mobs running rampage apparently using digital methods to organise themselves. This is not new and has even already been labelled in digital terminology as A Flash Mob.
For years, Flash Mobs have existed and have been purely for amusement.For example, social media helped 400 total strangers to show up on a certain day and time at Liverpool Street station to perform a dance in Jan 2009, and then leave. Watch the video here.
However in London this week, this is how mobile phones and social media were utilised during the riots for good and bad purposes.
Thugs used Blackberry Messenger and Twitter to gather quickly in different locations to riot (well, they were hardly going to print posters and organise formally). THE MEDIA Violence was recorded using mobile phones and shared quickly on YouTube and Twitter including a scene of an injured boy getting robbed by so-called "good Samaritans"! This video has already had more than 500,000 views on YouTube.
The police used text and twitter to quickly contact off-duty and part-time staff to quickly swell the force from 6,000 to 16,000 overnight to crush the uprising. Police also using captured CCTV images to create a rogue gallery to identify culprits on their own website, on Flickr and in the newspapers. More than 1,000 people have been captured to date (1 week since the incidents).
Opinions all round have been gathered and shared via Twitter and Facebook. Also, communities have organised to clean up local areas and show a sign of force and strength as a response. Hashtag #riotcleanup has managed to gather more people via Twitter than actual rioters
One of the saddest incidents was the destruction of a furniture business over 100 years old. How crazy that such resilience was ultimately defeated by a) kids, b) without any purpose or cause and c) using meagre weapons like bats and fists ... succeeding where two World Wars could not.
In conclusion, I'd like to leave you with the following thoughts:
- I hope that the forces of good will prevail above evil, despite the fact that the younger generation are more adept at digital media and are at the centre of this terrible behaviour.
- It's a relief to know what the likes of Martha Lane Fox are working with the UK government to ensure that digital media is an powerful force used by ALL sides.
- The quick response of the police proves this and, while they are highly criticised for their hands-off approach, they will hopefully show their true power by catching the culprits with the help of social media and the community using tools like their "rogue gallery" and inflicting harsh punishment as a deterrent to this ever happening again.
P.S. Since posting this - both NBC and BBC have been covering this topic extensively. There are interesting discussions about the policing of social media and ability to access RIM network information by the police. All very interesting new topics for society since the advent of social media. Another interesting one - should children 'friend' their teachers on Facebook?