Don’t Blame the Social Media

In 2011, rioters plagued the streets of London for over two days. Many theorists and news agencies reported on what was the cause of the burning, looting, and rioting of a collective group of people. May believe it was the result of social media and others the death of a young father of four. What did happen in London during these riots and what was social media’s role?

According to Matt Ingram, “In the wake of a controversial police shooting, Britain’s capital city has beenrocked by two straight days of widespread rioting and looting. As with previous riots — such as those in Vancouver, British Columbia following the Stanley Cup final — everyone seems to be looking for a culprit, with some blaming Twitter and Facebook, and others pinning the violence on BlackBerry and its instant messaging abilities. But that’s a little like blaming individual trees for the forest fire” (Ingram 1).

The rioters used social media in many ways to connect with each other and organize the riots, but they were not in fact the cause of the riots themselves. The use of social media whether it is Twitter, Facebook, or SMS messaging has constantly gone under scrutiny by government and city officials as a dangerous form of communication. In some countries like China, the use of social media has been completely banned or strictly controlled. IS this tool so dangerous to politicians and authorities that it needs to be restricted in such ways? Many people argue that social media is just a means of communication and that the only governments or officials that should be afraid of social media connections are those who are violating its citizens rights.

Further investigation of the riots reveal that the people of London were in fact angered by the police brutality, and social media had little to do with the cause of the riots at all. According to the Guardian UK, “Widespread anger and frustration at the way police engage withcommunities was a significant cause of the summer riots in every major city where disorder took place, the biggest study into their cause has found.Hundreds of interviews with people who took part in the disturbances which spread across England in August revealed deep-seated and sometimes visceral antipathy towards police” (Lews 1).

Matthew Ingram furthers the story in his arcticle about the cause of the riots last summer,” Although they are completely different in important ways, there are also some interesting similarities between the riots in London this weekend and the uprisings in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Both were triggered by the death of a man whom some believed was unfairly targeted by the authorities. In Britain, it was Mark Duggan — a 29-year-old father of four shot dead after being stopped by the police — and in Egypt, it was Khaled Said, a 28-year-old businessman who was pulled from an Internet cafe and beaten to death by security forces. Both deaths also led to the creation of Facebook pages that became the focus of a social-media effort that ultimately fueled the protests “( Ingram 1).

Social media was connecting protestors, but it did not cause the riots according to both the study and many news sources. The rioters were using tools to connect and organize their frustration with the government and police agencies.

In fact, the antithesis occurred when many volunteers used Twitter and social media to help clean up after the riots.  Blogger Rebecca Swallow gives an insight into how many people were involved in the cleanup effort, “After days of riots in London, thousands of Londoners and worldwide supporters are taking to social networks to help reclaim the streets of London. While rioters took to the underground paths of BlackBerry Messenger to organize, the highly spreadable mediums ofTwitter and Facebook have shown to be the perfect platforms for mobilizing cleanup organizers and followers in the early aftermath of the rioting. For the most part, organization has been very smooth, with a few key hubs across social platforms taking root. The @RiotCleanup Twitter page has amassed more than 50,000 followers in fewer than 10 hours and is consistently broadcasting cleanup locations and times, along with other pertinent information regarding the initiative” (Swallow 1).

Social media has only been guilty of organizing people, but what the people do when they meet up is entirely up to them. Many peaceful rallies have occurred as the opposite which have plagued society, and I am sure both happenings have come before and after social media.

Works Cited

Ingram, Matthew. “Network Effects: Social Media’s Role in the London riots.” GigaOM. 8 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://gigaom.com/2011/08/08/network-effects-social-medias-role-in-the-london-riots/&gt;.

Lewis, Paul, Tim Newburn, Matthew Taylor, and James Ball. “Rioters Say Anger with Police Fuelled Summer Unrest.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 04 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/05/anger-police-fuelled-riots-study&gt;.

Swallow, Rebecca. “Featured in Social Media.” Mashable. 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://mashable.com/2011/08/09/riot-cleanup-london/&gt;.

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