Watching the scenes unfold on BBC news 24 and Sky of rioting across London, Birmingham and Liverpool last night was an interesting experience when coupled with social media.
The BBC were keen to bring social sites into the equation early on, reporting that the riots may have been organized via Twitter, Facebook et al. One reporter saying “people are clearly using their phones, but we can’t get close enough to see whether they’re using twitter or just texting”. BlackBerry messenger (BBM) was also targeted by reporters.
It’s certainly a case here of don’t blame the tool. Although smartphones and social networks give more channels to use to immobilise for destruction, it also does the opposite and we’ve seen some heart-warming counter ‘attacks’ that have mobilized through channels on the web, and an overwhelming sense of community.
RIM have said they will be ‘assisting authorities’ to catch rioters that use BBM and Police are looking into arresting people inciting violence through Twitter. These people can be and will be traced. A Facebook event set up to start rioting in Manchester was reported by countless people and declined by hundreds more. It’s likely that something can be done about the 20 or so people who had accepted the event. People were keeping a look out for any untoward behaviour and during the evening several untoward accounts and message board posts were reported to the teams that run Greater Manchester’s various and active Police Twitter accounts.
Uninformed reporting from BBC News and an interview on BBC 5 Live were fanning the flames of rioting in Manchester. Manchester, known for it’s strong twitter community clubbed together and aided by a few dedicated community reporters, confirmed to @BBCNews that nothing was going on pretty much anywhere in Manchester. A core few were insisting that people stop spreading rumours and kept level headed. @GMPolice stepped in themselves to confirm reports were incorrect:
“BBC reports of rioting/disturbances in Greater Manchester inaccurate. No rioting whatsoever, no major disturbances. All quiet at moment.”
Rumours where spread about tigers being released, rioting where it wasn’t, shops that don’t even exist being looted. People were wildly speculating, facts were not being checked and arguments arose about political beliefs, but that’s just everyday twitter banter. It was comforting to know that overall there were an army of people using twitter counteracting these claims with facts and calmly dousing the flames of any rumours.
One of the most radical movements emanating from social media was @riotcleanup and the hashtag #riotcleanup has imobalised communities to clean up the streets after the riots, and it looks as though the majority of work has been sorted by 11am the today using it’s band of over 38,000 followers.
It’s not about the tools we use, it’s about how they’re used.