Whether you agree with the rioters in London or not (I don’t, and I think it’s acolossal waste of time, a disruption of society, and unnecessarily destructive, but that’s just me… I also hated when my own beloved Red Sox fans ripped apart the Fenway area after the Sox won the ALCS in 2004), digital media played a definite role in both the mobilization of rioters, as well as the attempted suppression of violence.
Mobilization of protesters, mostly teenage males, occurred through two main mediums:
- Social networking sites, primarily Twitter and Facebook
- Mobile communication, with a large portion of this being through Blackberry’s BBM service (beefed up text messaging)
Depending on which side you’re supporting in the matter, social media was either a good thing or a bad thing for both.
If you’re the rioters, mobile technology and social platforms allowed for easy connectionto fellow rioters, fast flash mob organization, and a quick spread of sentimentto other parts of the country.
If you’re the police, in some cases these technologies offered you an easier way to find where riots were popping up, and, to some extent a trail to followwhile the sentiments spread.
If you’re the rioters, you’ve offered an easier way for police to trail you.
If you’re the police, unfortunately the speed that digital technology allows for connections to be made was too fast to followin most cases.
Not that there are actual winners, and not that digital technology was a necessary tool in the situation, but if I were to say which “side” was able to leverage social media fully, I’d go with the rioters. Despite the ability of the authorities to have some insight into actions and movements of the rioters, in many cases it was not soon enough to stop the spread of violence.
What Does This Mean
There are many things to consider when analyzing the role digital technologies play in activism/mobilization – number and type of connections, amount of publicly visible information, speed of information transfer– and these become increasingly important if we’re looking at a dual- or multi-sided situation.