Social media plays huge role amidst madness of UK riots

This weeks’s riots have demonstrated the power of social media – for both wrong and right reasons

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We’re sure we’re not the only ones who have been glued to our Twitter streams over the past 3 days, following UK riot news with intrigue and disbelief.

The riots, that continued to cause mass devastation in major towns across the country late in to yesterday evening, are undoubtedly one of the most unsettling news stories in modern history.

The reasons behind how and why these riots are happening is the centre of huge debate, one we’re not going to even attempt to join right now. What we are interested in talking about is the part technology has had to play in it all.

Much like it has been with other major news events of the past few years, Twitter has proven to be the most active, informative and influential of any form of digital media, social or otherwise.

Some stats released by web analyst, Hitwise, reveal huge spikes in Twitter activity during the first two days of this week’s rioting. Yesterday, Twitter accounted for 1 in every 170 UK Internet visits (excluding visit from third party applications), to put that in some perspective that’s 15% higher than it was around the super-injunctions scandal, previously Twitter’s  biggest traffic spike in its UK history.

Social networking has been a huge part of this week’s events, for both right and wrong reasons, with some even suggesting technology is to blame.

The notion of blaming technology for the riots is utter lunacy as there is clearly a much bigger problem to be dealt with here, but yesterday BlackBerry-maker RIM faced calls to disable its Messenger service BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) as it was revealed to be the rioters primary means of communication.

Although the service hasn’t been shut down, it has been revealed that the company is providing information to police which has predictably sparked all sorts of controversy.

Facebook has also had it’s part to play – a dim-witted lad was arrested yesterday after setting up a Facebook page encouraging people to riot in Warrington, not the only example of this sort of behaviour, we expect.

Embracing the huge impact social media is having on the events this week, the police are fighting back with some social activity of their own. In an effort to bring those responsible to justice the police have set up a designated Flickr gallery of suspected wrong-doers and are also appealing for information via Twitter.

At times like these it’s easy to forget that there’s many more good people than bad in this world, but a clean up campaign seeded by community do-gooders yesterday offers a glimmer of hope to anyone with doubts.

The hashtag  #RiotCleanup quickly became the UK’s number one trending topic yesterday and resulted in some very inspiring, concrete action as communities rallied together (and continue to do so) armed with gloves, brooms and heavy duty sacks and cleaned up the streets left littered by rioters and looters.

Understandably there’s been a lot of frustration and anger vented at the government and police force due to their lack of action this week. The opinion that the internet has been much more effective then any effort from the ‘powers at be’ is one felt by many, this tweet (user unknown) summed up the mood well we thought:

“if the Big Society exists in things like #riotcleanup, remember that Cameron didn’t give us it, the internet did”.

riot clean up

Clean-up in Clapham. Image via @Lawcol888

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