Last week, a man was shot dead by police in Tottenham, north London. What first started as a peaceful protest by the man’s family outside a police station soon turned into several days of riots and widespread looting, with violence erupting in other major cities.
Some writers speculate that what helped fan the flames of the London riots was BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Messages encouraging people to meet up and join the riots were circulated using this weapon of choice. While the use of social media has proved to be an effective way to publicly coordinate and organize protests, what is unique about the use of BBM in this case is that the coordination (and incitement) was coursed through private channels. Like Facebook and Twitter, BBM is fast and can be communicated to a large number of people. However, unlike these two social sites, messages over the BBM are private and encrypted, making them harder to trace. This proved to be a downside for authorities who looked at the ‘traditional’ venues of social networking to trace inflammatory messages on the riots.
BlackBerry, certainly, is not to blame for the violence that occurred. Social, political, economic and other factors (like plain, simple desire to steal and cause mayhem) might have triggered the riots, but social media has undeniably played a big part. While technology and social media may be used to effect change in a positive way (like getting rid of oppressive totalitarian regimes), the London riots have shown that it can also be a valuable tool to organize chaos.
photo from: cnet
Krystel Jehan M. Bautista, entry no. 8