London Turns to Social Media After Riots

London’s had a rough week, and social media played a heavy role in documenting the chaos.

London’s had a rough week, and social media played a heavy role in documenting the chaos.

On August 4th 2011, Mark Duggan, 29, was shot by a police officer during an arrest attempt in Tottenham, London. A single bullet killed Dugan, and on August 6th 2011, roughly 200 people, including relatives, marched in Tottenham. Frustrated with the lack of information released by officials, several crowd members became violent, causing riots. The riots were not limited to a single night and lasted over the course of several days – though, much of the rioting took place at night.

As a result of the riots, 1,100 have been arrested, five civilians have been killed, and British Parliament was recalled early in order to deal with the fallout of the chaos. As with other recent cases of civil unrest, social media has played a significant role in documenting the events of the last week in London.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #londonriots, and Ben Firshman created an application that plots tweets with the hashtag and places them on a Google map. While some Twitter users were using social media to rally rioters to certain places, others were making more positive user of the micro-blogging service. As with the recent Vancouver, Canada riots the movement to clean up after the riots was mobilized through social media using the hashtag #riotcleanup.

Tumblr and Flickr also played significantly roles throughout the week. The United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service turned to Flickr to post images from closed-circuit cameras in an effort to identify criminal behavior. According to a statement: “We have been making arrests all evening and have a team working during the night examining CCTV images.”

And the police weren’t the only people documenting bad behaviour; a Tumblr page titled “Catch a Looter” posted videos and images to help police identify riot participants. According to Jeremy Kirk’s article on PC World the creator of the site notes his goal was “to do something to help fight back against the opportunistic thieves and thugs who are ruining people’s lives casually and entirely for their own benefit.” The site’s creator, who wished to remain unnamed, continued: “My intention isn’t to start a witch hunt or vigilante group, merely to gather all the photos in one place for ease of use,”

Not to be left out, Facebook also played a role in the riots. Glasgow police detained a sixteen year old for posting messages that apparently “incit[ed] other to commit acts of disorder”.

However, the social media tool that was used most negatively appears to be BlackBerry. Several stories report that teens used the Blackberry Messenger app to arrange meet-ups and create disturbances. Research In Motion’s Patrick Spence notes: “We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can. As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials.”

As with many recent civil disturbances across the globe this year, social media played an active role, and like the riots themselves, the content distributed revealed both positives and negatives from people doing the communicating.