Social media used to spread Britain's riots
London: Some of the text messages read like
real-time rallying calls for rioters.
"If you're down for making money, we're about to go hard
in east London," one looter messaged before the violence
Still others direct looters to areas of untapped riches
stores selling expensive stereo equipment, designer clothes,
alcohol and bicycles.
Most show a portent of even worse things to come. Encrypted messages sent via BlackBerrys are being used by mobs
to encourage rioting across Britain mayhem born of an
incendiary mixture of conditions that converged during
Europe's sleepy summer vacation season.
Many of the masked or hooded youths have been
photographed typing messages on their cellphones while flames
engulf cars and buildings.
Conditions have been perfect for the unrest. Britain's
economic outlook is bleak, youths are out of school and
unemployed, police ranks have been depleted by summer
vacations, and social media sites coupled with dramatic video
of the rioting have bolstered a mob mentality and spread
BlackBerry's messaging system is popular among youths
because it's free, compatible with multimedia and private,
compared with Facebook and Twitter. Its encrypted messages
give troublemakers an added benefit: Police aren't able to
immediately trace message traffic the way they can with
Social media have been a potent force in fueling the
riots that began Saturday in London's boroughs and later
spread to other cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds
and Bristol. Messages have also been sent via regular texts
and on Facebook. One 16-year-old boy was detained Tuesday for
allegedly encouraging violence on Facebook.
But the social networks also have provided refuge for
fearful residents and shop owners who say police efforts have
been feeble and slow. Twitter is helping to pinpoint areas of
violence, organize community cleanup groups and alert people
of alternative routes they can use.