Social Networking and the Peaceful Response
Don’t go away from this thinking that BlackBerry Messenger is the future of mobile text-based communications, however. Social networking still has a massive part to play.
These types of horrific displays of lawlessness and disorder routinely end up with a lot of finger pointing and very little done by the authorities to change things. Column inches are chewed up by pontificating commentators and people tend to forget about the events soon after.
But not in London.
While the rioters were using the underhand and sinister medium of BlackBerry Messenger, those affected – upstanding and responsible citizens – embraced Twitter to react to the massive job of cleaning up their communities.
Just as BlackBerry Messenger sits on a mobile handset, so many millions of Twitter users access their accounts via a mobile phone. Thanks to the #cleanup hashtag hundreds of citizens turned out in the days after the riots, and supported by a police presence, worked hard to tidy their streets.
The whole sorry saga has, uniquely, shown two very different sides of the consumerist culture. On the one hand we have those described as the “feral youth" – unemployed teenagers and twenty-somethings with too much time on their hands and access to a secretive messaging service with which they can arrange all manner of secretive and illegal activities.
But we also have the flip side of the coin: intelligent, mobile, responsible grow-ups who may or may not have a job but are socially responsible enough to recognize disorder and do what they can to make a change by embracing technology in a positive and far more powerful and lasting way.
The big question, however, is this: now that social networking has displayed this new level of maturity, can it become a real force for good, or is every Twitter and Facebook app on every mobile phone destined to revert to narcissism and trivia?