Don’t blame BBM and Twitter for the Riots


Immediately after the riots the Prime Minister stated that punishment for rioting could be to ban people from social networks. David Cameron also stated that the usage of social networks could be restricted during times of disorder.

Earlier today the owners of Blackberry were ordered to Parliament to explain the BBM (Blackberry Messenger) service and how it contributed to the mobilisation of the riots as well as to question Facebook and Twitter executives for their networks’ part in the disorder.

Despite some MPs wanting to move away from any knee-jerk reaction it seems that the communication tools and online communities are still taking more than their share of the blame for how the rioting ensued.

So was it the fault of Twitter and BBM? Would we have had the riots without them?

What is BBM – Blackberry Messenger?

BBM is a great device. It can be used to send a single message to a large, assigned group of people in an instant.

For example, an IT Manager in a business can send a Blackberry APP made for the company to all employees in one message which can then be uploaded to the phone, thus saving vast amounts of time and resource. This is similar to a memo service of old, or an email to All-Staff. Fast, simple and un-tracked.

The problem with the riots was that Blackberry couldn’t track all these messages. The police were blind to what was going on within these plethora of groups. Maybe Blackberry initially felt that they never needed to track such messages, and for the example above, why would they? This was obviously one of the reasons why the rioters used it as a communication tool. Also, it’s a truism, but they also used it because many young people have Blackberrys (a cheaper smartphone than an Iphone). But is this the technology’s fault that big brother isn’t watching our every step or text?

Bad News travels fast on Twitter

Yes news and information can spread on Facebook and Twitter like wild-fire, whether it is good or bad. Rumours can quickly be formed and read by millions of people within minutes.

However, those rumours can be quashed too, almost as soon as they have formed. If the Government wanted to curtail this communication source in times of disorder, it would be switching off all the benefits that can be gained form reaching millions of people in seconds, calming people, informing people of danger, or (as we saw the day after the riots) belittling perpetrators.

The day after the riots Twitter and Facebook came into their own and had massive positive effects on the aftermath of the riots. Twitter helped to give a voice to the clean-up, Facebook hosted a group of 750,000 plus who supported the work of the police. Just because a few people had used these sites the previous night, doesn’t mean they aided the progress of the riots anymore than any alternative could have done.

There would have been riots without Twitter

It has been reported that more than 70% of the 1,715 brought to court had previous convictions or cautions after the riots. On the particular night some of these people used BBM or Twitter to call their friends to arms or decide upon targets. But surely, if we didn’t have BBM or Twitter, wouldn’t they have simply used something else?

To blame either technology is like blaming Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner for the political unrest of the 1830s. If that was closed do you really think anyone with a political discourse would have not simply taken his angst elsewhere?

No technology can be blamed for the riots, neither can they take the credit for the backlash. Twitter and Facebook are simply soundboards to our society and its opinions. Yes there can be an acceleration to it that we are simply not used to, but like society we will have some bad opinions, hopefully we can put them right more quickly on Twitter and use the soundboard to society’s benefits.