Posted August 9, 2011 11:53 am by with 4 comments

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This post has been updated. See end of post for details.

The riots in London is the most recent story getting as much attention for its use of social media as is the actual reason for the riots themselves. The unfortunate incident that set this off is a case of a man being killed by police. To be fair, I have not looked into the circumstances surrounding these riots or the true sentiment towards the rioters themselves. Believe me, there is enough trouble here in the States to keep us all worried busy.

What is interesting is the role social media plays in how these events are played out. We all remember how it took a Google employee to organize protesters in Egypt using Facebook. The irony is not lost on that one and you wonder if that happened today would he be fired for not using Google+.

This latest event gets its social media angle on two fronts.

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First, RIM’s BBM (BlackBerry Messaging) service was the communication tool of choice by the rioters themselves. This seems to have played out due to economic reasons since the service is much cheaper than texting. It appears as if RIM (the company that produces BlackBerrys) can’t catch a break these days because most of the news around the company is how it is being routed by iPhone and Android devices in the smartphone wars. Now it is being linked to the rioters and looters in London’s latest social unrest.

Computerworld reports

The London riots and looting spree have caused British police to turn to Research In Motion for help. It’s emerged that a hard core of rioters were coordinating via BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

From commenter Jonathan Akwue

I appear to have been one of the first people to notice that young people were using [BBM] to communicate with each other prior to, and during the riots. … I didn’t expect it to become quite as big a news story. … My insight came from the urban young people I’m connected to, for whom BBM is the social network of choice.

For its unintentional part in these events RIM’s UK Twitter account posted:

We feel for those impacted by the riots. … We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.

Twitter, on the other hand, gets the best angle in that it was the communication service of choice for a group of Londoners who were intent on putting the riot areas back together again as quickly as possible.

Forbes reports

The Twitter account @RiotCleanup has taken on more than 48,000 followers after setting up just seven hours ago and has been posting locations and times for people to meet up to clean, urging them to bring heavy duty sacks for glass and heavy objects, gardening, and rubber gloves.

@Riotcleanup has meanwhile been encouraging any local businesses to get in contact if a cleanup is needed. So far, though, it looks like there is less work to do that organizers had expected. Hackney and Lewisham are both said to be “pretty cleaned up by now,” @RiotCleanup tweeted. At least they can say that if rioters take to the streets again, locals will be ready.

While it looks likeTwitter comes out smelling like a rose in this case because they were used by “the good guys”, that’s not entirely true.

Rioters reportedly used social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger to encourage more violence; now locals were using similar tools to clear up their mess.

We have not seen the last of turmoil and discord in the world so now the question is how will social media fan the flames of unrest, be it for the good or the bad? We are now even to the point of wondering WHICH social media outlet will be used and for which side of any particular conflict.

What are your thoughts on the role social media plays or can play in events like these? From a business perspective what are these social media outlets to do with regard to how they respond? If you were RIM what would you say? Would you concerned that your brand is now associated with riots and looting? Do you address the issue or do you do like Facebook did in the Egypt event which is to deny any involvement other than being the chosen tool?

Final question, isn’t it interesting how social media wants to be seen as more than just a tool but when the situation warrants, it’s the first thing they will call themselves?


According to The Next Web some of the price that BlackBerry may pay for their helping police is having their blog hacked.The screenshot below was taken before the blog was taken offline.

  • I look to Facebook as my news source because it is a lot easier to see what my friends are talking about sharing

  • Wow…. that would have been a bad day for BlackBerry – to be associated with the word ‘rioters’ and the likes. To answer your question, I’m a twitterholic so I swear by the speed of info when it comes to Twitter, like the shootout that happened near my place a few months back. Everyone’s tweeting before the mainstream media hopped in.

  • Frank, your questions or the title of the post is just superb – great thinking! My choice is always TWITTER.

  • i was in the middle east in february / march this year during the riots in that region and i used twitter to figure out where the riots would be. I checked facebook and there wasn’t much there. there were a few facebook groups trying to organize days of protests against the government they weren’t very active.