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Social Media and Civil Unrest in London

by Jo Shaer, on August 9, 2011

Listening to the news reports of the rioting in North London over the last few days, one of the commentaries focused on the role of social media in this continuing civil unrest.

Blackberry Instant Messenger

According to some statistics quoted, around one third of UK teenagers have a Blackberry and, apparently, many of the youths involved had been called to action by messages on the Blackberry Instant Messenger network about the possibility of free laptops and other goods if they attended at specific locations around London. Unlike Twitter and other public platforms, Blackberry Messaging is a private network where you tend to personally know the other people involved and Blackberry UK tweeted Radio 5 Live during the programme promising to do all in their power to help the authorities to identify the culprits.


Twitter itself has also been involved with status updates urging followers to get down to certain locations to see what was going on and the experts on the programme identified the Twitter users as the spectators and the Blackberry users as the troublemakers.

Again, the experts quoted statistics which stated that out of every one hundred Twitter followers, ten are likely to retweet a status update and only one will actually respond to the call to action.

This is due to the nature of the Twitter network where, invariably, you follow someone because they once mentioned that they liked something that you also like and then you forget why it was that you followed them in the first place. The weakness of this link means that followers are less likely to be swayed by calls to action as opposed to the closer linkage of the Blackberry Instant Messenger network.

Having said that, in the cold light of day of Tuesday morning, copy cat events in Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and Liverpool do seem to have involved calls to action using status updates on Twitter.


Personally, upon receiving a message about riots in part of my town, the last thing on my mind would be to go to the scene, but it would seem that people do. Experts on the radio also revealed that, some weeks ago during a disturbance at the Stanley Cup in Canada, police called for pictures uploaded to Twitter under the hashtag #canucksriot to be sent to them. These were then publicly displayed on Facebook so that the perpetrators of the violence could be identified.

Other commentators mentioned that on Sunday, prior to the evening's riots in Enfield, the term 'Enfield' was trending on Twitter which tends to suggest that the events were orchestrated and the Police have announced that they will be monitoring traffic over the period anyone found to have been inciting others to join the violence will be prosecuted.

It is thought that, in any future occurrence, GCHQ may well be monitoring such transmissions on all networks to give the Police all possible logistical information to protect innocent people from this type of organised violence. However, it has also been mentioned that BDM (Blackberry Direct Messaging) is not a monitorable network.


After another night of violence in London that spread in copy cat looting and arson in Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham, images are being put up on both Facebook, Twitter and the various Police websites to help identify the perpetrators and instigators of this disgraceful behaviour.

On a more positive note, Facebook and Twitter have also been responsible for a large quantity of volunteers, who turned up for a huge clean-up operation in many of these cities.

Topics:social media

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