Despite exaggerated reports by some areas of the press, social media didn’t realistically play any part in starting, or stopping the rioting and looting that has taken place in the past few days. But that’s not to say it didn’t have a role to play in how the events were received, consumed, and experienced by the general public. Here are 5 positive contributions I feel social media made to the situation in the UK over the past few days.
1. Kept people informed, and ultimately safe
An easy one as social media, after all, is a communication channel. But in times or breaking news and events, it really comes into its own. It’s no surprise therefore that twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and numerous blogs became the main source of breaking news as rioting and looting spread throughout the country. But more importantly than just spreading news about the riots social media kept people safe. Updates on where rioting was taking place were made available and spread via social channels such as this Google Maps Mash Up. Granada Reports were the source on the street for real time updates in Manchester via their twitter account and Greater Manchester Police gave advice to the public via their account. All of this helped to keep people safe, knowing where they should, and shouldn’t go.
2. Controlled the rumour mill
As with the majority of breaking news stories, over the days the rioting took place, the rumour mill was out in force. News spread quickly of riots in areas where there were none and the extent of the rioting and looting was vastly exaggerated in some instances. But through a combination of passionate tweeter rubbishing false statements of rioting, and people publishing pictures and videos of the real events, on the whole, the rumours were controlled.
3. Boosted the clean-up effort
It wasn’t social media that made people don rubber gloves, pick up their brooms and join in the clean-up effort, but it helped spread the word. The community spirit and refusal to let the looters get the better that was shown by the clean-up volunteers was great to see, and I have no doubt they would have been willing to do the same with or without social media. But you can’t argue with the role social media played in spreading the word about the clean-up efforts and how it will have contributed to the numbers of people involved.
4. Gave people a voice
Social media is all about having a voice and in the case of the riots this was very evident. Regardless of your views on the cause of the rioting and looting, it gave people an outlet aside from conversations with friends and colleagues. Whether that was venting on Facebook through updates or groups or taking the time to blog their thoughts social media was, as it often is, an outlet for people to express their thoughts on the cause of the unrest, and the people involved.
5. Brought people to justice
And now the worst of the rioting and looting is hopefully over, social media could play its most important role of all. Bringing to justice those involved in mindless violence, destruction and robbery in the past few days. Catchalooter.tumblr.com aims to publish photos of those involved in the looting in an attempt to bring them to justice. Numerous YouTube videos are available aimed at catching looters and the Greater Manchester police are publishing CCTV stills of those wanted in connection with looting on flickr.