The riots have brought out the best and the worst in social media
Social media, and in particular, Twitter, have played an important part in the riots across the UK over the past week. Twitter was lauded as a tool for democracy at the beginning of the year, in the context of the Arab uprisings. However, the same cannot be said in this instance.
On a negative note, Twitter served as a mobilising tool to encourage further mindless vandalism. Indeed, it has even faciliated a co-ordinated looting strategy. By posting on Twitter, where these vandals were heading, others rushed to get a slice of the loot. It helped to inflict further criminal damage upon our society, and to foment an already tense stand-off between police and the looters.
It has manifested itself as tool for good and bad citizen journalism. With everyone posting tweets, it has been nigh on impossible for authorities to decipher real intelligence from red herrings. How can an already stretched police force manage this? This is the equivalent of 100,000 prank 999 calls all coming in simultaneously. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of China's book and not be afraid to turn websites off in they compromise national security. Extreme I know, but we are dealing with peoples' lives and livelihoods here.
On the flipside, for every false tweet, there have been many that have used it to vent their frustration and anger at these criminals, and to take a stand against it. #riotcleanup has already generated over 100,000 tweets,and is clearly a force for good amidst all this. Social media can now bring networks and communities together for the rebuilding process.