Starting with the fatal shooting of one civilian, recent protests and riots in England have resulted in over 1100 arrests in various urban centers, according to James Melkle and Sam Jones for Guardian. The riots have included attacks on police officers, looting and burning stores, and a hit-and-run car accident that caused the death of 3 British citizens. Melkle and Jones write, “eight people in their area [have] been arrested on suspicion of inciting public disorder through the use of social media sites.” Although the media continues to overemphasize the use of social media as a means for organizing criminals and rioters, the people of England are making a statement that this is not the case.
The rioters utilized social media such as Facebook to incite sentiments of discontent and BBM & instant messaging to “organize” these spontaneous riots. Members of the community are now using it to clean up their cities. The hashtags “#riotcleanup” and “#reclaimlondon” on Twitter are being used to get people involved in helping out. According to Erica Swallow for Mashable, “The @RiotCleanup Twitter page has amassed more than 50,000 followers in fewer than 10 hours and is consistently broadcasting cleanup locations and times, along with other pertinent information regarding the initiative.” Swallow also mentions a tumblr account called “Catch a Looter,” that accepts and posts pictures of known looters and vandals for identification.
The role of social media in these riots has been highlighted in various news reports. Cases like these remind us that social media is a tool like any other. Whether used for good or for bad, it is an effective means to an end. Some say that social media should be monitored to quickly prevent events like this from happening, while others cry censorship and freedom of speech. Comparisons have also been drawn between the use of social media in London and in Egypt. In both cases, Facebook was used to spread news and fuel already tense sentiments while Twitter and messaging were used to mobilize people. I believe a major issue for the future will be what rules and regulations are created to police social media and what people will have to say about these rules.
Images via Twitter