London Riots Fueled by BBM

Social media takes backseat to private messaging

Over the past three days, riots have engulfed the streets of East London, with looting and violence creeping westward.

The unrest began after a peaceful protest over the fatal shooting of an East London resident spun out of control. Though it is not yet clear if the culprits of the ongoing violence are organized groups with a unified cause or rather just opportunists looking for an excuse to break the law, there have been indications that rioters have been in touch. Social media has played a now famous role in the Arab Spring uprisings, but in London a more covert communication tool has been the weapon of choice, BlackBerry Messenger.

According to reports, BBM has been used by rioters to inform each other of the loosely affiliated group’s movements. Where Facebook and Twitter were relatively transparent forms of communication for Arab Spring supporters, BBM is a private messaging service, making the group’s movements and motives much less clear. It also means that police are having a more difficult time identifying any type of leadership in the chaos. Twitter has been used by the protestors, but more as a broadcasting tool for BBM PIN numbers rather than any means of substantive communication.

BlackBerry has acknowledged the messaging service’s role in the riots and issued a statement on Twitter: "We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can."