How much are Twitter and BlackBerry to blame for British riots?
British officials have criticized social media for its role in organizing and fanning the riots throughout England. But experts suggest that much of the criticism is misplaced.
Days of rioting across England have sharpened criticism of social media tools like BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, and Twitter, which are helping criminals organize looting gangs, British officials say.Skip to next paragraph
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• A day earlier, Scotland Yard warned that those "inciting violence" on Twitter would be brought to justice.
On Thursday Prime Minister David Cameron added his voice.
“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organized via social media,” Mr. Cameron on told British lawmakers in an emergency session of parliament. “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.”
The riots have brought Britain face to face with a trend that has emerged the US, albeit on a vastly smaller scale: "flash robs" – the criminal version of "flash mobs." Large groups of thieves have appeared suddenly at stores in cities from Las Vegas to Chicago to Washington, with law enforcement suspecting that raids were organized on social media.
But the scale of the chaos in England has prompted a far greater urgency, pitting law and order against the very social media tools that were hailed for supporting public demonstrations against authoritarian regimes during recent "Arab Spring."
In some cases, the calls to action among England’s disaffected have walked a fuzzy line between activism and incitement. After the shooting death of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan by police, some supporters organized a vigil Facebook page. But shortly afterward, the page had more than 7,500 fans and several dubious comments asking people to share videos from the riots.