UK residents began utilizing such services as instant messengers, Twitter, and Facebook to spread information about the current state of affairs. One of the primary forms of communication was Blackberry Messages (BBM). Huge amounts of information, both true and false, was sent out to millions of residents. Not only were professional news companies attempting to keep up with the situation, the authorities were straggling behind as well. The riots became a devastatingly efficient blend of unruly behavior and organized rioting.
With an estimated 37% of British youth owning a Blackberry, this became one of the most adaptive and responsive riots to have ever taken place. Due to the nature of Blackberry’s messaging system, rioters were given an encrypted form of communication that not even the various government agencies could not crack in time. To compound this, Twitter was being fueled by true and false information. Tweet accounts such as @LondonRiots would receive as many as 10,000 hits in just a few hours as it claimed which parts of the city were hotspots. They were also used to spread fear as Twitter subscribers began posting fake pictures of armed soldiers and tanks, claiming they were going to counter-attack the rioters.
After all is said and done, these same social media platforms were used to quell the majority of the violence, and eventually clean up the city. As quickly as social media was blamed for the riots, it helped to pick up the pieces. Thousands of locals organized on Facebook, Twitter, and over BBM to perform massive clean ups around the city.
The authorities are beginning to wage their own social media war as they have begun posting pictures of rioters and lotters on Flickr and Twitter, asking for anyone who knows those individuals to turn them in. The have also approached Blackberry in asking them to turn over all texts coming in and out of the hotspots during the riots.
Just as with any piece of technology, in the hands of motivated individual it can be used for both good and evil. This is not the first time social media was used to fuel violence, and it will no doubt not be the last.