Poor old Blackberry has copped a beating in the riots coverage - singled out for being the primary instrument for spreading the word of discontent around London. It’s closed messaging service was the ideal medium for the rightly paranoid rioters to arrange the next when and where. Facebook and Twitter copped a bit of abuse as well, but it will be a lot easier to catch the people that were stupid enough to use them.
It was funny timing indeed when it was announced on Tuesday (post-Monday riots Tuesday that is) that Facebook had launched it’s own stand-alone closed messaging service for iPhones and iPads. Those poor kids with iPhones that were unable to get to the JC Shoes store before all the Blackberry kids had plundered it must be kicking themselves (with their old trainers). Apple themselves will be joining the party shortly with their own iMessage application, so in future there will be wealth of choices when choosing the best phone to fit your ‘social life’. Unfortunately, it appears that there are still no options for Android phone users, who will have to be content with carrier pigeon or the old two cans and a string trick.
In news today, our esteemed ever-holidaying Prime Minister has made some noises about banning rioters from using social media. In the same speech he talks about investigating ways ‘to get ahead’ of those that used Blackberries to foment dissent. There was even talk from some politicians and red-top tabloids about shutting down entire mobile networks and Facebook and Twitter during such emergencies.
It’s increasingly bizarre for me to hear such ideas when we take into account recent developments around the world in regards to the freedom of oppressed people. Many of these popular uprisings would not have been able to happen without the use of social media and closed messaging services. That they can be applauded when they are used in other countries as an instrument of liberation but decried when they are used here as an instrument of violence is ridiculous.
Well Mr Cameron, you can’t have it both ways. Either you want to have a totalitarian regime that has strict control over a naughty public or you want to be the leader of a country with citizens able to speak their minds. Spending the time to look at the actual causes of the riots and trying to fix them would be way more constructive than just another knee jerk reaction.
The Welfare State
The Commentator (a very much right-of-centre online publication) spent a lot of time on Tuesday using Twitter to try and blame the riots on the fictional nation of ‘The Welfare State’. While the disaster was still unfolding, they seemed to revel in the fact that they could use the situation to promote their own agenda and tweeted such gems as:
To simply lay the blame on “the welfare state” was just one tiny bit more intelligent than those members of parliament who blamed it on those other easy targets: “sheer criminality” and “mindless thuggery”.
Surprising to see the number of smashed windows on property agents in both riot and non-riot affected areas around London. Were there actually some politically-motivated anarchists involved in the proceedings - or is it just that everyone hates property agents?
A friend of mine who is an upstanding member of the constabulary was itching to get out and help on Monday but unfortunately was confined to bed with broken ribs. He was not as frustrated as the policeman that tweeted on about wanting to come into work but was told by his superiors to stay at home.
It was very strange that there were only 6,000 police out on Monday night. I was amazed that the shopkeepers on Stoke Newington High Street and Kingsland Road were left to fend for themselves as the stretched resources of the Met did their best to contain the trouble wherever it was breaking out.
Did the authorities actually think that the riots were finished with because the weekend was over? I think anyone in London that didn’t reside in an affluent bubble could have told you that trouble was brewing. There should have been many more police out on foot patrol on Monday - it would have averted much devastation.
The Turkish community of Dalston
One of the great stories to come out of the riots was how in certain areas citizens came together to protect the local community from the rioting. It happened in Dalston and Brick Lane on Monday night, and again in Birmingham on Tuesday night.
The events that unfolded in my own area of Dalston were particularly inspiring. In my previous blog post about the riots http://bit.ly/ruvuLRA I had noticed the strong Turkish presence on the streets earlier in the evening on Monday. By the end of the night it seems that they helped deter rioting and looting from spreading to the area.
In a perfect world people should not have to stand alone to protect their property and their livelihoods against criminal violence, but the result is amazing when a community gets together to stand side by side. In future scenarios of widespread civil unrest, if communities and police took a united stand there would be little chance of trouble spreading. But even better - how about governments and councils getting together to do everything that they can to foster stronger and more caring local communities.
Facebook launches new messaging service
The Guardian: David Cameron on the riots and social media
BBC: Great article on the possible causes of the riots
Al Jezeera: Opinion piece about the causes
The Commentator on Twitter
Guardian: Video of Dalston on Monday night