21st Century Rioting: A Look at the UK
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21st Century Rioting: A Look at the UK

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 by cyberacoustics

By now, you’ve probably heard about the London riots—tonight will mark the fourth evening in a row that those upset by the death of Mark Duggan will take to the streets all over the city. It’s not just London, either—violence has broken out in Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, and Bristol. And of course, social media and technology is playing a rather interesting role, on both sides. 

The rioters are primarily using BlackBerry Messenger to communicate with each other to mobilize and organize themselves to damage storefronts, houses, and pretty much everything in their path. A lot has been made about the demise of BlackBerry in the past few months, but it’s turned out to be the most efficient tool for communication in this instance, due to its inexpensive nature, as well as the ability to keep conversations secure with PINs. I’m not sure this is the publicity that RIM wanted to keep the BlackBerry platform afloat, though.

But it’s not just the rioters that are using technology in a new way. The BBC has reported that Scotland Yard is using their massive closed-circuit television (CCTV) network to release pictures of the rioters for identification purposes.  The prevalence of CCTV in the UK has always been a point of contention for civil liberties activists, but it appears that now it’s actually being used to bring people to justice, which no one can really argue against. The photos will be available on Flickr, so civilians can aid in the identification. But what about when regular people try to help and take it a step too far?

It’s probably not so good, as the “London Riots Facial Recognition” Google group has proven. In spite of trying to maintain ethics and not identify the wrong people as rioters, vigilante justice is honestly best left to…well, nobody, in this set of circumstances. Until crowdsourcing crimesolving becomes de rigueur, best to let the professionals do their job.

There IS some good news in the middle of all of this, though. A group called “Riot Cleanup” has already gained 50,000 twitter followers and the accompanying website provides an up-to-the-minute listing of places to meet up for helping to clean up and restore some of the damaged areas of London.

So what’s the lesson we can take from this? Any time a new technology comes on the scene, people will ALWAYS find a way to use it for evil. All we can hope for is that more people use it for good, and with increased adoption of social media and new ways of communicating, it seems like there’s a decent chance of that, especially in the UK.

 -Laine Towey, CA Marketing Manager


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