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Over the weekend London has seen huge riots, triggered by the death of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan. On Thursday 4th August, Mark Duggan, a father of three was shot dead by police whilst attempting to arrest him. The exact circumstances of the incident are unclear, and whilst the IPCC (independent Police Complaints Commission) are investigating the events stories are surfacing alleging that Mark was unarmed and in some cases handcuffed.
On Saturday members of Mr Duggan’s family went to identify his body. In response to this around 300 people gathered outside Tottenham police station after peacefully marching from Broadwater Farm Estate asking for “Justice” for Mr Duggan and his family. Unfortunately what started off as a peaceful rally turned violent shortly after 20:00.
In the press today they have started reporting that Social Media and Blackberry’s messenger software BBM fuelled the weekends’ riots which devastated parts of London. This is a ludicrous conclusion. The Guardian has said today that “For many teens armed with a BlackBerry, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free, instant and more part of a much larger community than regular SMS.” In my personal experience this is incorrect, yes BBM is free, but SMS is also instant and probably a larger community. I own a Blackberry myself and only about 5% of my contacts have a Blackberry, those that don’t use SMS or some other free software such as ‘Whatsapp?’.
As for the use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate and organise riots, this probably did happen, but in all honestly it is just another way to communicate. These riots would have probably ended the same without Social Media, we have been able to communicate on a large scale for years using telephones, SMS, email, forums and more simply community meetings or smoke signals.
How the rioters used technology is not what fuelled these riots, they were fuelled by a community’s dissatisfaction with the authorities and a clear case of the Police not understanding or relating to this particular community. This is made clear by the way the Police originally handled the initial outbreak of violence and not predicting this sort of reaction from the community when tensions were running so high.
The impact Social Media had on these riots will never be 100% clear but are as much to blame as any communication method.