With the Arab Spring still simmering, further social unrest has reared its head in the UK. Rather than the protests that have taken place before, this time the unrest has a much more criminal feel to it and has led to multiple arrests and injuies and of course, massive media coverage.

Like the Arab Spring, certain sections of the media has looked at the role that social media has played and similarly, some journalists have exagerated the role of social network sites and new media, appearing to view them as a cause. Less critical institutions such as The Sun and The Daily Mail place the blame on SNS –

“The Sun said that rioters used Twitter to swell their numbers and “orchestrate the Tottenham violence” as messages were sent inciting others to join in as they sent messages urging: “Roll up and loot”.

The paper quoted one tweeter who posted: “one sick tweet even called on rioters to KILL police officers in a chilling reminder of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during a riot nearby in 1985″.

It said crowds swelled as they plundered shops during the night as looters used Twitter to brag about their hauls and spread word of their locations.

The Daily Mail also joined in and said that “fears that violence was fanned by Twitter as picture of burning police car was re-tweeted more than 100 times “.”

Furthermore, Tottenham MP David Lammy that the riots were “organised on Twitter”.

Yet, there is little evidence of their orchestration on the site’s public feeds. Attention this time has largely  been on the Blackberry which 37% of UK teens own. Its free BBM service has allowed users to communicate on the ground in a secure manner (partly due to its business roots) which is very hard for the police to track. Thus unlike the very public Twitter accounts which rely on internet connections, instant messaging is a fluid communication system.

BlackBerry smartphone

“Dr Chris Greer, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at London’s City University believes that smartphones will have aided those involved, but are unlikely to have persuaded reluctant recruits to join the rioting.

“I don’t think it is having any impact on the motivation to protest in the first place,” he said.

“But once people have mobilised themselves and decided to take to the streets it is certainly much easier to communicate with each other.””

Social unrest has always existed, it is far to simplistic to make a causal link between SNS´and the scenes in Egypt, London etc.Yet, clearly the role of new media is of real interest, just what effect do pages such as the one dedicated to the shooting of Mark Duggan have? Do the 7,500 members of the page active users? Can a Facebook page incite violence? Are the police right to pursue Twitter users who encourage violence?


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