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How Has Social Networking Influenced the London Riots?

Over the past day or so, the UK has been captivated by the rioting that has taken place in London and now Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham and Nottingham.

News has been coming in thick and fast on the TV, Radio and the Web of the disgraceful acts carried out by groups of rioters in London, though it is becoming increasingly obvious that social networking has been the method of choice for people to both voice their opinion and find out what is going on as it happens.

Micro-blogging site Twitter has been inundated with people from all over the world talking about the rioting – citizens of London and the other affected cities are posting about their experiences on the site, and even the rioters themselves are posting images and tweets. Everybody wants to know what is going on and it seems that Twitter has become the best way to keep as up to date as possible.

Yesterday, the top trending topic on Twitter was #londonriots and today it is #riotcleanup. In fact, almost every other trending topic carries some relation to the London rioting – it’s the most talked about topic on Twitter by a long, long way. Who would have thought years ago that a micro-blogging site could be the method of choice for millions of people to find out about something such as rioting?

Despite the bad press that social networking has received surrounding the rioting, over the past 12 hours it has also been used for good. @Riotcleanup is a new Twitter account that was created yesterday to pull together people who want to help clean up the streets and clear damage caused by the rioting in all cities. The account has gained 32,000 followers and their message of #riotcleanup has shot to the top of Twitter’s trending topics list. People have gotten together and headed out onto the streets of London and Birmingham to help however they can, thanks to Twitter. The power of social networking can be used for good, too.

While Twitter has been used by many to find out what is going on, it would seem that another much less likely social networking tool has been used by the rioters themselves to coordinate violence, looting and mugging. Blackberry Messenger is thought to have been used by a large proportion of the rioters to post statuses about the rioting – telling others where rioting is happening and even planning attacks. By searching ‘BBM riots’ or similar on Twitter, you are presented with a host of people talking of how the Blackberry-exclusive IM app is being used by young rioters.

Research in Motion, the makers behind Blackberry smartphones and the Blackberry Messenger app, are believed to be in direct correspondence with the London Metropolitan Police to help however they can. It’s great to see a multinational technology company weighing in to help out as best they can, as we’re sure they don’t want their BBM service and its excellent reputation to be tainted by this terrible event.

If you’ve seen Blackberry Messenger, Twitter or any other social networking site or app used to coordinate rioting in any of the affected cities then please let us know. You can add a comment below or tweet us @Gadget_Helpline.

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