Even the BBC took up the social media panic discourse on August 9th and reported about the power of social media to bring together not only five, but 200 people for forming a rioting “mob”. Media and politicians created the impression that the riots were orchestrated by “Twitter mobs”, “Facebook mobs” and “Blackberry mobs”… A few month ago we had “Twitter revolutions” and “Facebook revolutions” in Egypt and Tunisia, one now hears about “social media mobs” in the UK. So what to make of these claims?…
…Blaming technology or popular culture for violence –- the Daily Mirror blamed “the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs“ for the riots –- is an old and typical ideology that avoids engaging with the real societal causes of riots and unrest and promises easy solutions: policing, control of technology, surveillance.
It neglects the structural causes of riots and how violence is built into contemporary societies. Focusing on technology (as cause of or solution for riots) is the ideological search for control, simplicity and predictability in a situation of high complexity, unpredictability and uncertainty. It is also an expression of fear. It projects society’s guilt and shame into objects. Explanations are not sought in complex social relations, but in the fetishism of things.
If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook and Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode.
Tory MP Louise Mensch, The Telegraph. UK riots: teenager charged with BlackBerry incitement.
Yesterday we noted an article from GigaOm that England is considering shutting down social networks in order to disrupt and ultimately halt “unrest”.
But social networks weren’t the only platforms considered. The government was hoping to get help from Research in Motion in order to target those using its Blackberry Messenger Service.
Done. Today, an 18-year-old was accused of intentionally encouraging “the commission of an offense under [England’s] Serious Crime Act 2007” by sending messages via her phone.
Yesterday a 27-year-old man was arrested for doing the same.
This comes days after RIM promised England’s authorities that it would help “in any way we can”.
Police already have powers to access stored data and monitor social networks in real time under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Nevertheless, in his speech to Parliament yesterday, David Cameron said new powers were under consideration.