Rioting in London seems to have degenerated from an actual protest of the fatal shooting of local Mark Duggan to opportunistic mass theft and destruction. Though UK press condemned social media networking site Twitter for contributing to the worsening state in Brixton, Enfield, and nearby districts, organization is reported to have actually happened behind the scenes through the private BlackBerry Messenger system.
Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, who tweeted and live-blogged coverage of the chaos over the weekend, confirmed through several sources that messages, such as the one he published in its entirety on the Guardian blog
, were broadcast to BBM groups and through contact lists. It began, “Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!! Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!),” and continued, “If you see a brother...SALUT! if you see a fed...SHOOT!”
Twitter discussions surrounding the London riots had their share of trolls trying to incite racist hatred and inappropriate jokes or comments, but you can’t really blame the platform for that; it’s only a medium. Much more of the conversation condemned the senseless looting and arson, expressed sympathies for the people of London, or spread news of areas currently affected. Pictures of particularly bright criminals posing with their stolen goods are also circulating on Twitter, which could help lead to the arrest of those responsible.
How could it possibly be of benefit that the attacks seem to have been orchestrated in private BBM messages
? For one, police are now aware of the way this technology is being used and can better prepare in case it is used to organize criminal activities in future. We have no idea whether people reported these messages to police before the attacks occurred, but some recipients may be more inclined to report the messages after seeing the scale of needless destruction in London neighborhoods. I would bet police will take these messages seriously, as well.
Another benefit to the use of BBM as opposed to Twitter in the distribution of these organizational messages is the fact that users can’t hide behind anonymous usernames. BlackBerry phones each have a PIN; users exchange these identifying codes in order to become contacts and exchange messages. Let’s hope that some of the more than 100 people arrested had their smartphones on them, complete with contact lists and message history that should help police locate and arrest more of those involved in the violence and vandalism.
Some rioters also seem to have taken to Twitter to brag about the goods they stole and the destruction they caused, encouraging others to go to BBM groups to see pictures. When posted to BBM groups, pictures and messages are available on the phone of every person in the group. Let’s hope this also aids the police in their investigation if they are able to confiscate the phones of those arrested.
Yes, technology helped the criminals responsible for the destruction in London to get organized. Let’s hope it also helps them get caught and brought to justice.