Friday, August 12, 2011

Ban social media?!

There are hundreds of articles this morning about banning social media - or monitoring certain accounts and shutting them down as a result of the riots throughout London this week.

The London riots have been a news item all week. On social media, people (or *looters) are posting photos of the goods they have stolen and being arrested for it.

And on Twitter by following the #Londonriots hashtag, it has been streaming up to date information while police men and journalists have been confirming or denying rumours and keeping locals informed. Twitter is a site where all information is shared publicly and the information can be used both positively and negatively.

While people were Tweeting about the riots and asking questions, others were embracing #Londoncleanup #OperationCupofTea and #riotcleanup to assist with the clean up and to show the world that people use social media for good  and that Twitter and Facebook were a way of reaching locals and encouraging them to clean up the streets and aid and assist people who had been affected by the riots.

When I want news, I turn to Twitter. The riots (over 5 days of looting) affected people accessing their Twitter accounts globally. People commented, shared, ReTweeted, sent information and sent their condolences. People tracked and read news items and when there was a rumour or misinformation, the police, journalists, news accounts, photographers and local Londoners instantly denied/confirmed the rumours.

When the riots spread, people were instantly Tweeting which direction and where the looters were and this prevented locals from being in harm's way. By accessing their social media safely in their homes hotels, bars ... Londoners stayed informed - which is very important at a time when looters are burning cars, houses, glassing shops and loading up supermarket trolleys full of goods.

Social Media helped people stay informed and stay out of the way of the *looters (*you can insert any word you want here). The news was instant, rumours were squashed and people stayed informed, way ahead of news sites and television updates because social media can be accessed by all of us, anyone of us at any time.

Time and again, there has been evidence of how social media can benefit information. It happened in Mumbai, in Egypt and in Japan where the Japanese people were informed when and where to go, where it would be safe, where to move to, what do do via social media.

People respond to world events on social media. Offers of assistance pour in, people pray, people send in donations, people contact friends and family. 

With the London riots, people globally were writing blog posts, updating facts on Twitter, commenting and responding to the news, asking questions and showing a sense of community. A global community, we can reach each other online, we can assist people online look at #HornofAfrica and how easy it is to stay informed regarding Somalia and how the @WFP on Twitter is showing people thousands of kms away; that they can help, raise awareness and donate.

I do agree that social media can be used to misinform. And it can be used to incite, violence, hatred, harm, danger - but look how quickly it was quelled. Search #Londonriots and read how many people were just sharing links, keeping each other informed and asking for opinions and for reasons.

Police could track looters via their social media accounts. Sure some will be fake accounts and we again see how quickly social media can full with misinformation and spam - a good guide is to follow authorised journalists, news accounts and influentials (Google people/ companies names for confirmation) and wait for confirmation (from a reliable source) before ReTweeting and sharing a rumour or fake/false Tweet.

Social Media cannot be banned. If anything, after the riots calm and the streets of London are clean again, I hope the journalists, photographers, police and news teams who were involved submit in their reports that social media helped them to find and track looters for arrest, that it keep locals safer by informing them of where not to go, that they could access content online and use it for news items and inform each other and that the Metropolitan Police used a Flickr account, to post pictures of looters for identification. 

Technology is not to blame. 

We've heard this before with violent movies, with video games, with songs, with videos ... we cannot blame any tool/medium for how we respond, react to and use it. 

Social Media accounts are used for the public and by the public and there are always going to be people who use technology, Internet, videos, art, movies, music, toys, games for evil and try to stir up hatred, revenge, controversy, violence. 

People have been commenting on how public sites can be monitored by police and they already are, there are cyber police watching, monitoring and tracking Internet content. There is a need for this ... we are all well aware that any form of technology can be used for harm, that there is danger in this world, that people can put themselves in danger online. 

And we as communities, individuals, governments and police can educate children, teens parents, communities any user regardless of age and circumstance on how to use the Internet wisely.

The *looters were a huge mix of Londoners. Some were on the dole, some had jobs. Some are poor and disenfranchised. Some have been lost and are outcasts. Many are extremely poor, uneducated, bored, disenfranchised ... they're lost and a lot of them are broken. Most do not have access to youth centres or youth activities. Some look for jobs and want jobs but others are stuck in the welfare system. Their parents have no control over them and they are out in the streets, hanging around, getting addicted to drugs, sex, crime, alcohol, they're a mix of race, class, culture, ethnics and they're London's lost. Some of these kids are older and should know better. They took advantage of the chaos and shopped.

They stole, clothes, electrical goods, mobiles, jewellery, Sony music (from the warehouse) and anything they could grab. *Looters robbed people dining at The Ledbury and Jamie Oliver Tweeted after his restaurant was attacked. Four people have died of a result of these riots. Some people were burnt, harmed, beaten, mugged, robbed and hurt badly. They burnt people's homes and took away people's livelihoods and that affected me. Hard working Londoners were affected, the small businesses, local shops, people who worked hard all of their lives, paid bills, worked, earned a living got hurt and harmed.

And the worst of all of this for me, is that they were not fighting for a cause, standing up for a belief even speaking out about their personal situations. They were technically shopping although some of the *looters did use the frenzy to take advantage and used violence.

People will learn that everything can be used for good and anything can be used for evil. It is a battle that has been fought and won and lost for centuries. With each new technology comes a new learning curve and instead of shutting things down one by one, we can educate, teach and encourage people to learn.

The *looters did not rob Waterstones - a shame that books and learning and education is not seen as a valuable commodity. 

If the UK wants to start anywhere with these *looters, start with teaching them that books are a valuable commodity, more so than a pair of jeans, a TV or an iPhone.

*I wanted to call them all the names that I have seen on Facebook and Twitter. People have been commenting on and judging these looters and as I have no facts at hand and have no right to call people names, I will leave that up to you.

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