If You Can Text, You’ll Have a Riot…

With the increase of Twitter, Facebook, and BBM users worldwide, it’s not uncommon to have minute-by-minute coverage of all kinds of events. From tips to surviving the earthquake in Japan, to messages of support for the Egyptian revolts, social networking technology is now an integral part of the world’s daily exchange of information. Here’s a look at its role in the 2011 England riots:

If You Can Text, You’ll Have a Riot…

And apparently also a clean-up crew after the riot, as proven recently in England.  What started out as a few marches on the streets of north London protesting the police shooting (that killed the alleged gangster Mark Duggan,) smoothly transitioned into something much more aggressive. Certain groups of youth saw an opportunity to turn peaceful protests into a series of riots, supposedly displaying resentment at the unfair treatment the police give to people from communities like Duggan’s. Of course, while the shooting may have lit the spark, what fuelled the violence further was the undercurrent of anger stemming from the people’s discontent with the government’s economic and social reforms. For a few weeks after that initial burst of rioters, London and its surrounding areas found themselves in a temporary inferno. Yet in the chaos, one thing remained constant as a catalyst of the spread of information, destruction, and even reparations – social networking. The lootings and fires, in addition to making it big in the news, carved a special niche for themselves in the butt of many instant message-driven jokes and ‘like’ pages on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and other social networking areas. But this communication harbors the more secretive role of organizing many of the violent events that occurred (well, come to think of it, quite a conspicuous role, considering the number of rioters in said events.)

I don’t mean to paint a grim scene of some of the websites we often frequent- and on which there’s little to do (in fact, the riots may have opened our eyes up to even more uses of these sites.) Technology has its proper place in this scenario, but there are those who claim that the riots primarily reached their intensity due to things like incessant Tweets and reblogs calling people to smash store windows, and BBMs rallying up people for protests. I imagine that they think someone, who never intended to take part in the ruckus, would jump at the chance to “…up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 50 [police],”* as one BBM mentioned, and risk getting arrested (yes, BBM could land you in jail). Surely people aren’t swayed so easily. What Tweeting and texting did do was propagate news and updates at an unprecedented speed, which resulted in quicker actions- but the underlying anger was present before the actual rioting and would likely have endured even without the heavy use of technology. So, talks regarding the shutdown of some websites and phone lines seem to unnecessarily put technology at fault for infuriating those who decided to riot.

What else did technology do? Well, the internet was a great outlet for rioters with a penchant for posting pictures of their faces next to buildings they ransacked. Globally, it made people instantly aware of the situation, many times through the eyes of those who created it (and all in real-time). One could even say it was simply an outlet for animosity, especially since a lot of planned events never came to fruition. But wait- there has also been a quiet but burgeoning wave of people who’ve embraced this innovative use of common websites to try and clean up the city by organizing crews on Twitter. With more than 85,000 supporters, this ‘restoration army’s desire to end the disarray is apparent. And so is this little message to those self-professed photographers: The pictures of you with your stolen bags of food only help the police.

-Shaakya Vembar


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