The London Riots of the past few days have proved that social media is a potent tool to affect change.
Sadly, this started off as a force for violence, with rioters using social media to mobilise and move swiftly to new targets; with rival gangs inciting each other with images of burnt out cars, buildings and violence against police – as well as evidence of their stolen loot – all shared via social media.
Blackberry Messenger became the main communication tool for these actions, as unlike Facebook or Twitter, it is private and therefore harder for police to tap.
As the violence moved across London and to other cities, many looked to Twitter for updates on their own areas, using hashtags such as #londonriots or more location based ones like #clapham #ealing #liverpool as they sought to learn where the trouble would hit next.
With so many of the looters being caught on camera, posts on YouTube, Flickr and on blogs like Catch a Looter went live, and today, hashtag #tweetalooter and profile @catchalooter are being used to share information with @metpoliceuk, who have in turn set up a Flickr channel to post photos of suspected looters.
But the most interesting use of social media has come in the aftermath of the riots, as communities in the cities involved pull together.
Hashtag #riotcleanup began last night as many tried to direct offers of help to those who were made homeless or whose business have been trashed. Within hours, tens of thousands were following @riotcleanup on Twitter and had joined Facebook page Post riot clean-up: let’s help London, with one quick-thinking individual registering riotcleanup.co.uk allowing those organising clean-up events to post times and locations.
Numerous offers of food, clothing, renovations, cleaning and shelter have been posted on social media this morning, with hundreds turning up to organised events get on with the job of helping London and other communities get back to some kind of normality.
A wonderful example of the positive potential of social media in such difficult times.