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Social Media has Exposed the Worst in Us, and the Best as Well: A Reflection on the Riots

Social media has been one of the most influential tools to be used in the recent riots. Much like the protests against the rise in University tuition fees, were mostly organised through Facebook, the rioting in recent nights has proven yet again the dangerous power that social media websites and utilities can hold over our society particularly with regard to the organisational abilities it can provide.

[pullquote] This is neither about political viewpoints, nor about pointing fingers and apportioning blame over immigration and employment policy.  This is about a group of young, disaffected youths out to cause trouble and steal whatever they can.[/pullquote]

And yet, it is not just for ill that new technology has affected the riots. Not only has it provided a platform for those that incite violence, but also a powerful tool from which the public at large can condemn the actions of the rioters.

Of course, not everyone has treated it as such. Many used social media such as Facebook and Twitter for preaching politics, rather than for any useful purpose. One Facebook user commented that, “How did we end up with such scenes on our streets? That’s right – 13 years of lax immigration policies and fat state payouts. Never, ever forget that the only reason we have an underclass in this country is because Labour decided to pay for it”. Many immediately responded to this in anger, others in support of the statement. Sadly, however, the main point was missed. This is neither about political viewpoints, nor about pointing fingers and apportioning blame over immigration and employment policy. This is about a group of young, disaffected youths out to cause trouble and steal whatever they can. Modern society appears to have created an environment in which some young people seem to believe that it is their right to behave in such a way, to destroy other peoples’ lives and ruin communities for personal, selfish gain. Society is the fault of all of those who shape it, not simply the politicians and the attitudes of this minority do reflect upon all of us in a negative light.

At the same time, social media has created the backdrop for a snapshot of society at large: a confused, worried nation that has rallied together in disbelief at what is occurring on the streets, sharing information and encouraging people to stay safe and to avoid trouble hotspots where possible. One Twitter user’s advice, retweeted by many, read, “pls RT Just a thought. There must many elderly people alone & afraid in in these areas. If you’re close by go & check on them”.

Similarly, many people rallied together to help organise and run huge clean up operations around the country, using the tag #riotcleanup. In line with this, whole websites have appeared in a concerted public community effort, such as www.riotcleanup.com, which contains information about upcoming cleaning efforts, while a special Google-based map detailing verified rioting areas was constantly being updated last night by a dedicated individual, helped by volunteers. This map is now being run by the Guardian newspaper.

While there is no indication of when the rioting will end, or even any obvious way of preventing these attacks from happening, extra measures are being taken to ensure both public safety and tougher police response. What is certain is that, for all that a small minority of the public has turned on society, people will still be there tomorrow, with brooms, in order to clear up afterwards and possibly make a cup of tea when it is all sorted.

Ben McCabe

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  • dan
    9 August 2011 at 22:34
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    So much for flashmobbing being fun.

    The use of social media here is merely destructive. And the looters have no real political point to make. Whereas our middle class students had all the logic in the world and a positive social media campaign and got nowhere. The difference is real action and having the feeling you have nothing to lose. The looters are getting Ugg boots and our students want to be able to afford theirs.

    If you want to read up on this look up Nick Stevenson one of the lecturers in the sociology department.

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