London: Dramatic television images of shops
set ablaze by rioters and the police standing by amidst
looting fuelled last year`s riots in London and other towns in
Britain, according to a report by an independent panel headed
by a prominent Sikh social worker.
The riots were televised almost live, while social media
was abuzz with messages and images of the disturbances that
blighted Britain`s image across the world.
Prime Minister David Cameron`s government has since had
preventive talks with representatives of Blackberry, Facebook
The report, titled `5 Days in August`, says: "From the
evidence around the August riots and from what people have
subsequently told us, it seems clear to us that the spread of
rioting was made worse both by televised images of police
apparently watching people cause damage and loot at will, and
by the ability of social media to bring together determined
people to act collectively".
The panel comprising four experts, chaired by Darra
Singh, said many people felt that 24-hour news coverage on BBC
News and Sky News exaggerated the extent of rioting in their
area, and helped "make rioting a self-fulfilling prophecy" by
inadvertently directing rioters to trouble hotspots.
The panel, however, warned against knee-jerk plans to
shut down social networks in time of public unrest, concluding
that "viral silence may have as many dangers as viral noise".
The panel, which visited 21 communities and interviewed
thousands of people affected by the riots, concluded that
there was "no question" that rioters were aided by the
existence of social media.
The panel said: "Mobile communications technology is
continually evolving and new developments may benefit the
police and authorities rather than rioters...What is clear
from the riots is that there is no simple `switch off`
solution. Viral silence may have as many dangers as viral
The report said despite the widespread use of social
media by rioters, it did not recommend that networks such as
Facebook, Twitter be shut down during future disturbances.
It said: "Because of the important and growing role local
communities see social media playing in reducing the spread of
riots in the future, we recommend that the experiences of
communities, public authorities and others in the August riots
are considered when new principles are being developed".
The panel added: "We fully support the freedom of the
press. We appreciate the challenges around reporting of large
scale, fast moving, public disorder events. However,
regardless of this, because of the potential implications of
inaccurate reporting, it is essential that TV reports are
accurate and that the link between the issue being reported
and the accompanying images is clear".