The despicable acts of the rioters across England this past week have received widespread condemnation. At the same time, some commentators and media have pointed the finger at social media for its role in helping the rioters to stay one step ahead of the police. Do they have a point?
Whilst social media has meant communication is now immediate, in some cases instant, I’m not aware that it comes with an overwhelming impulse to destroy property, loot from shops, and fight with the police and anyone else who might be in the way. I’m not sure what the exact triggers are for such behaviour, but being able to communicate with others more easily than a few years ago seems a tenuous link at best.
There may be arguments for the encryption of some devices and platforms to be relaxed during emergencies, and instant messaging on Blackberry has been the focus for those who want to criticise. But isn’t the issue not so much how we communicate, but who we communicate with?
Many law-abiding citizens have pointed out that they didn’t see any messages encouraging them to riot, but did see numerous invitations to join the clean-ups that followed. If ever there was an argument for the immediate good that social media can achieve, the scenes in London’s Clapham Junction and Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens proved the point spectacularly. Like-minded people will communicate with like-minded people.
At the same time, there are concerns about the role of social media this week, and not just in the pages of the Daily Mail. The speed with which rioters eluded the police has worried some people, but is technology to blame? Social media is just a means to an end, not an end in itself, to try to lay even some of the blame on a means of communication just seems lame.