Social media: creating riots and busting rioters

Here is an alternative take on the UK Riots and usage of social media.  Much has been made of the role of social media in creating the riots.  Here is the counter point – the role of social media in busting the rioters.

Take a look at the screen shot below.  @anniecat84 has seen one Jay Hasan bragging on Facebook about trashing Croydon.  She has Googled “how to report rioters” and then taken a screen shot of the Facebook page and broadcast it on Twitter via Twitpic.  There is now a Facebook page with 2,500 followers called “Jay Hasan NAME and Shamed Croydon Rioter” albeit some of the outrage vented here appears to be highly racist given that Jay is assumed to be of Asian descent.

Interestingly Jay Hasan has used the rioters favoured weapon, a Blackberry, to update his Facebook page.  I wondered if he had linked his Blackberry messages to his Facebook updates – thus rather foolishly breaking the encrypted protection Blackberry’s give their users.

The lesson from this, as far as social media is concerned, is that despite what some elements of the media and police might suggest, these riots were not created by social media.  Social media is a tool that can be used to create riots, or catch rioters, or spread racist views, or spread anti-racist views.  It isn’t inherently pro-or anti-anything.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the view being advanced that these riots have nothing to do with political or social factors – it is simply pure criminality and the perpetrators should be locked up and if anyone else is responsible it is their parents.  Riots don’t happen in healthy functioning societies (except in France).  The fact that we are having them indicates that something has gone wrong.  If politicians look to shift the blame away from themselves onto parents or anyone else (as those of all mainstream parties are rushing to do) this will be a massive evasion of responsibility.

On the Today programme this morning, Sam Gyimah, Tory MP for Surrey East opened up his comments on the riots with the observation that the rioters were displaying a dangerous sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility.  It occurred to me that the same might be said of the worlds’ bankers – a fact that cannot have failed to come to the attention of said rioters.  Whatever we have been doing for the last 30 or so years the net effect has been a significant widening of the gap between rich and poor – with the creation at the top of a super-rich elite, increasingly out of touch with the rest of society and the creation at the bottom of a disenfranchised underclass, similarly out of touch.  In such a situation we cannot be all that surprised when shop windows get smashed and buildings get burned (and multi-million bonuses get earned).



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