UK newspapers The Daily Mail and The Sun have both gone on record blaming Twitter for enabling or escalating the violence that exploded in UK's Tottenham area over the weekend. The Daily Mail "fears that violence was fanned by Twitter " and referred to the looting as a "Twitter riot" in one photograph's caption.
"Roll up and loot," shouted the headline in The Sun on Monday, paraphrasing several tweets. "Rioting thugs use Twitter to boost their numbers in thieving store raids." The Sun went on to quote more messages, during and after the riots, for and against the activities of those involved. "One sick tweet even called on rioters to KILL police officers," stated the paper in its usual semi-objective voice, "in a chilling reminder of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during a riot nearby in 1985."
The very next story posted in The Sun is a collection of photos taken from Facebook, showing the man whose death sparked the rioting. Mark Duggan, 29, was killed by a police officer on Thursday. The Sun does not hesitate to state as fact that the police were responding to shorts fired by the suspected gang member, although National Ballistics Intelligence Service investigations have cast significant doubt on whether Duggan had even drawn a weapon.
Meanwhile, The Telegraph article entitled "How technology fuelled Britain's first 21st century riot"spent a considerable amount of space discussing how BlackBerry smartphones "become increasingly popular with members of urban gangs and teenagers...largely due to the Blackberry Messenger service – known popularly as BBM – which allows owners of the devices to communicate with each other for free and almost instantaneously.”
What none of these stories go so far as to say is that mobile technology and social media are common factors creating an uncomfortable resemblance between criminal riots and the kinds of demonstrations that marked the Arab Spring uprisings. While the difference between a protest and a riot may be largely a matter of whether or not one identifies with the ruling political administration, it is undeniable that the unique features of social media and wireless technology make both types of mass action more effective.
This would certainly not be the first time that The Sun and The Daily Mail have used technology as a handy scapegoat to appeal to an older, conservative, and/ or technologically illiterate readership. Of course, all three of the media companies mentioned have a significant presence on Twitter and Facebook -- and it's worth betting that they count a number of BlackBerry users among their (voice mail hacking?) employees.
James Lee Phillips is a Senior Writer & Research Analyst for IBG.com. With offices in Dallas, Las Vegas, and New York, & London, IBG is quickly becoming the leading expert in Internet Marketing, Local Search, SEO, Website Development and Reputation Management. More information can be found at www.ibg.com. Stephen-Hicks is the CEO of Southridge which is a diversified financial holding company.