UK uses Social Media to fight back against London Rioters

A snapshot of Social Media and how it was used to voice the opinions of Briton’s after the initial London riots.

When the London and UK riots started on Saturday 6th August 2011, some sections of the press blamed social media arenas for aiding the momentum of the rioters, especially drawing attention to the Blackberry Messenger Service used by the gangs and rioters.

Headlines and newsprint filled some Sunday newspapers:

“Blackberry Messenger and posts on Twitter, helped spread the locations of riots like wildfire and brought hordes of teenagers together to attack neighbourhoods throughout the weekend”


“Twitter was ablaze with rallying calls for further looting and clashes with police”

Monday night saw many parts of London ablaze and large groups of people running riot through several suburbs of the capital. However, when the people of the UK woke up on Tuesday morning the social networks were filled with a different wave of opinion with a desire to fight back against the rioters – this in turn was reflected, instigated and given momentum in social media.

Initial Shock of the night’s riots

By the time most people were in work, Facebook was saturated with images of the previous night’s riots and looting. Londoners were sharing their shocking stories and experiences, outsiders were wishing them safe travel and their best regards.

News stories and Videos then began to be linked to Facebook, via YouTube, opinion was being formed and within minutes the most hard-hitting were being shared on Facebook and the social media snow-ball began to roll. This video gained half a million hits by lunchtime on You Tube and Facebook.



Support for the Police

News publications were asking the questions “Where were the police” on the previous night?, rather than just relaying the news, strong opinions were being conveyed by users of social networks and new Facebook pages were being set up in support of the police, some gaining huge momentum and fan bases.

This page with 800,000+ fans in a single day must be the quickest growing Facebook group in the history of the social network.


The Clean Up Operation #riotcleanup

On Twitter a feeling of Londoners coming together and wanting to do something positive was taking effect. Initially a topic of #PrayForLondon was trending (presumably started by Americans through the night), but this was soon superseded by #riotcleanup, a call to arms, or brushes, for people to aid the clean up job in their communities.

Hundreds answered the Twitter appeal to clean up their boroughs and went to the High Streets with brushes and most importantly community spirit. The Twitterati got involved and Londoners within social media started feeling empowered. The clean up of the streets turned to the re-ownership of the streets.

According to the social media monitoring agency Brandwatch, the term #riotcleanup was used 29,000 times on social media throughout the morning. Here we see the timewheel of mentions courtesy of Brandwatch:

Naming and Shaming the Looters

The UK population started to fight back on the social media sites. Looters were being named and shamed on Tumblir in a “Catch a Looter” page, which was being frequently linked to from Twitter and Facebook. The Met police launched their own sites whilst posting further photos on FlickR.

Videos were being uploaded to Facebook castigating the actions, while alleged pro-rioter Twitter pages were being highlighted and attacked by the masses.

Belittling the Rioters and Looters

As afternoon came, a new comedic tone took over the social networks. The naming and shaming turned into a belittling of the looters and rioters. Here on photoshoplooter on Tumblr people were invited to mock the looters.

Funny rioter photos

Social Media should not be blamed for the rioting. It’s like blaming the London Underground for transporting the crowds from one borough to another. Nor in turn should it be given credit for stopping the riots. It is a communication device for everyone to use and a way of conveying opinion by all groups and an arena to make observations then shape and form arguments. To blame the messaging device is a basic ill-thought accusation.