Monday, 8 August 2011

Is Twitter Fueling the London Riots?



Last night as I was winding down, getting ready for a night in front of the TV I logged onto Twitter to get an update on the Tottehnam riots. I was surprised to see Brixton trending.


Brixton had been hosting the annual Brixton Splash only hours earlier, an event I had planned to go to but unfortunately missed. Looking earlier at the photo's of people enjoying themselves en masse, dancing, eating, drinking, socialising and generally having a brilliant time, I was pleased that the event had taken place without any major incident. 


Brixton Splash
Brixton Splash was an event celebrating multi-cultural Brixton, even more poignant having read and watched the events unfolding in Tottenham only the night before.


But Brixton wasn't trending only because of the Splash. There were literally hundreds of posts about a supposed riot kicking off in Brixton, post stating that gangs of youths had descended on Brixton and were causing trouble. 


Locals were quick to point out that actually there was no trouble, that they were in fact in Brixton at the time and apart from people milling about as expected after a festival there was nothing particularly newsworthy going on.


That didn't stop the rumours though. It was becoming a frenzy at this point. Windows were being smashed, shops looted and police were battling to stay in control. Except it wasn't happening. Pictures emerged of a looted H&M, which was actually miles away in North London. 




The next thing I know, it was actually kicking off for real. The looting, the fires, the smashing of shop windows was actually happening for real. In the UK at least this is the first real rioting of any substantial size that has taken place during the Internet generation and it felt last night, like the Internet, in the absence of any credible, accurate and up to date information from the media was the place to turn to get an update.


Social media can be a brilliant tool - I have witnessed campaigns ranging from saving a local cinema to taking action against the stoning of an Iranian women but it can have it's downsides too. The hysteria building on Twitter last night about supposed riots in Brixton, long before anything had even kicked off was nothing short of a red rag to a bull. 




So is Twitter and other social media fuelling the London riots, pouring fuel onto the proverbial and literal fire?


Today, similarly to the events of yesterday, locations around London appear to be trending, with tweets about riots taking place long before they actually seem to happen - Croydon, Deptford, New Cross, Lewisham, Brockley. Is it really that social media is the quickest way to get news out there or a self-fulling prophecy, waiting to happen because the rumours on Twitter say it is? I fear the latter.


The police have said that they will be looking at Twitter to see if there is evidence of people inciting violence and encouraging the looting and rioting that has spread across the capital. I guess that will be like looking for a needle in a haystack, what with the tweets, re-tweets and suchlike that occurs on the site.


It's not that I blame social media entirely. The saying goes that there is no smoke without fire and there have been brilliant efforts by people today to re-tweet messages of how to help and get involved in the clean-up in Brixton. As I said at the start social media can be a tool that has positive uses. But it is worrying. 


What do you think? Has social media - Twitter, Facebook etc played a part in these riots? 
What do you think?

1 comment:

dirtycowgirl said...

Personally I have issues with the media as a whole, and I think that social networking is linked to it nowadays.
The first I knew about events in London was late last night, been busy at home and not had the tv on - but it does sound as if you're right.
I saw a news report earlier that said 'older white men' were believed to be encouraging it in Hackney. Makes a change from blaming young black men I suppose.

Of course whenever there is 'rioting' albeit started due to outrage, many people jump on the bandwagon and see it as a chance for looting and throwing things at the police. (Who, it seems, are to blame for the original cause of all this).

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