A few days after social media was being lambasted in the UK press for its role in the London riots, new media has emerged as a saint over night for its efforts in helping community groups clean up some of the damage that has been caused.
Whilst this really is a case of being two sides of the same coin, there’s no doubt that sites such as Twitter and Facebook have played a significant role throughout the recent rioting. As the police continue in their efforts to keep the streets safe, good hearted citizens are offering their help with clean up operations in all of the affected areas of London using the hash tag #riotcleanup on Twitter.
Social Media and the Riots
The advent of social media has made communicating key messages quicker and easier than ever before. For the most part it’s a great way of interacting with large numbers of people, and as a digital marketer knows, it’s also an incredibly effective marketing platform. However, since its infancy it’s not always been used in pure innocence.
As we have mentioned before, Twitter in particular is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to whipping up a frenzy, with messages and stories quickly going viral [See: Beware the Twitter Hate Mob]. To this end, the initial riots in London, which started on Saturday evening, were blamed in part on the use of social media and Blackberry Messenger.
The UK tabloid media had their say, ‘Fuelled by social media’ claimed the Daily Mail, ‘Nail the Twitter Rioters’ protested The Sun. The police issued a warning that those using these technologies to incite looting and rioting will be prosecuted. But social media fought back, showing what good it can do.
Social Media and the Cleanup Operation
Whilst new technologies certainly have played their role in organising, planning and communicating messages of disruption and boasting of gained loots, it can’t be held solely responsible for what we have witnessed over the last couple of days. Today social media has shown that good will out.
With hundreds of thousands of people joining Facebook groups and Twitter campaigns all geared around cleaning up London in the aftermath of such mayhem, we have seen a side to social media that we are more familiar with – a good side.
#riotcleanup has become the leading Twitter trend for anyone looking to give up a little spare time and make London’s streets tidy again. It’s not just London either. News of rioting and unrest broke out in various cities across the UK, with local constabularies also doing their best to keep people in the loop of what’s going on.
For example here in Southampton our very own Hampshire Constabulary’s Twitter profile @HantsPolice is there to keep all residents completely up to speed with what’s happening in our local area. With tweets like the one below, we can begin to see that Twitter’s certainly a powerful tool in reassuring the public, again a sign of social media’s positive potential.
Social Media and Catching those Responsible
It doesn’t just stop at cleaning up cities or reassuring communities, new media is being used to catch the culprits. Bloggers, internet users and the police themselves are calling on people to identify those responsible for rioting and looting.
For example the Metropolitan Police are using social media to their own advantage. They have their own photostream on Flickr identifying those responsible, and with another hash tag being used on Twitter, #shopalooter, pictures of groups and individuals are being sent all over the web in a bid to identify culprits.
There are also tweets of those who were bragging about their ‘swag’ being sent around Twitter in the attempt to catch the individuals responsible. For example, this particular tweet actually identifies a looter bragging on Twitter:
The irony in all of this is that whilst social media was used by criminals to organise riots and brag about loots, it can also be used to track those guilty of posting status updates or tweets. The guardian reported that the MET were going to work with social media and Blackberry to bring those guilty to justice.
Social media and social networking is a very powerful and a very useful tool in today’ society. There are a number of cases where it has been used to generate momentum, for example the Arab uprising in the Spring of 2011, and more recently, bringing the News of the World to account over its phone hacking allegations [See: News of the World Proves the Power of Social Networking].
We shouldn’t let some mindless criminals take all of what’s good away from this emerging media. As shown, it has fought back and is now being used to clean up the mess that, in part, it helped to start.
Portland Police In Riot Gear via BigStock