News Analysis: Social media in focus after British riots   2011-08-15 05:53:57 FeedbackPrintRSS


 Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron gives a statement outside of 10 Downing Street in London August 10, 2011. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

by Huang Kun

LONDON, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Days of riots have calmed down in Britain, but social media remain in focus.

As British Prime Minister David Cameron has said when addressing the parliament: "Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media."

Facebook and Twitter, and an instant messaging service BlackBerry Messenger, had been used by rioters to exchange messages on convening time and venues and others.

So the regulation of Internet is hotly debated after the riots, no matter it's under the name of social media or social networking, or the smaller concept of social websites, or the larger concept of new media.

What's the role of social media in the riots? And how should it been regulated?


It is easy to see most rioters in the disturbance are young people, and they are also the population group that prefers social media.

"Over 50 percent of Internet users in the age group of the rioters use social networking more than regular email. They tend to use it on mobile phones," said Peter Sommer, a professor in cybercrime at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Some people posted messages and pictures of rioting on websites as Facebook and Twitter, which are in many cases inciting followers.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) came to the spotlight during the riots. An internal service among BlackBerry users, the BBM offers a covert way of communication that is hard to be intercepted by the police.

Young people could be easily incited by their friends and their actions together could create a sense of belonging, which amplify what happens.

"The new media speed things up, sometimes helping to make ideas go viral," said Robin Mansell, Professor of New Media and the Internet at London School of Economics and Political Science.

However, social media is just a tool and there are also people using it for good reasons during the riots. "They used it to find out what was happening in different areas and to communicate the kind of good news that the mainstream media are not usually interested in," said Profess Claire Warwick, Director of the Center for Digital Humanities at University College London.

"For example, a picture of people making tea for policemen, using a riot shield as a tray, has been widely tweeted. And the Twitter (campaign) RiotCleanUp was used to organize hundreds of volunteers, who met to clean up the damage."

Editor: Mu Xuequan

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