Social Evil: Did Social Media Spark The London Riots?

By on August 9, 2011

News agencies all over the world are speculating today, about the role that social media played in the recent riots that broke out in London a few days ago. As social media experts look on, reports are pouring in blaming Twitter, Blackberry Messenger and Facebook for inciting the violence that ensued.

The question remains – is social media a real-time weapon of mass destruction?

Social Media Cons: Twitter Litter

What happens when crooks decide to use social media to organize, and rain havoc down upon innocent people and businesses? Many news outlets are asking the same thing. And after the destruction of many London streets from the Saturday riots, police and government officials will surely want control measures in place.

If anything, the riots have alerted the police about the potential dangers of always being connected with thousands of others in your area. But at its heart, Twitter – and even more private networks like Blackberry Messenger are vessels for good. Proof you ask? The collective solidarity of non-violent social media users from London, that are uniting to clean up the streets.

Social Media Pros: Criminals Beware

They have started a Twitter hashtag – #RiotCleanup – to help attract other concerned Londoners to their cause. Police have been encouraging bystanders to use the power of social sharing to capture images of criminals looting. Imagine being tagged in a shop with a television in your arms! Opinions are flying in left and right, as journalists exploit the hype for catchy headlines.

It’s still not really clear why or how this whole debacle happened. What is clear, is that the potential for policing the masses and bringing criminals to justice is great when using social media. The police force and the government need to re-evaluate how important social media really is in this day and age.

They need to unite, consolidate and monitor. They need to learn to use the general population as an extension of their own departments. We can’t blame the social networks for the riots, but we can admit that the danger is real. Social media is supposed to be public anyway, so there wouldn’t even be an invasion of privacy.

Social Media Forces

Perhaps we’ll see the rise of social reporting sites, run by governments or police branches – that integrate with dominant social networks. It would certainly be convenient to post something as it’s happening on a site that has the power to affect immediate change. A police run social site could do that.

Social media is becoming geo-targeted anyway. Now all we have to do is wait for some savvy programmer to weave the wool into a blanket. Until then, perhaps the police will have to suffer a little more at the hands of instant social media.

What do you think? Should the police focus on social monitoring, or should they have their own form of instant social site, to use in times of rioting and distress?

About John Souza

John Souza is founder and chief strategist of SMMU and Social Media Impact, and is a bestselling business author. He won the 2011 Tech Marketing Awards ‘Social Media Marketer of the Year’ and most recently the About.com Reader’s Choice Award for Best Online Education Site. John has appeared on The Michael Gerber Show, and his business has been honored at the Mashable Awards, Forbes Business Awards and The Stevie Awards.
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