Using the social web well in times of social unrest
That was a mistake: by then, my ‘wise’ reflections seemed obsolete and rather trite. I scrapped the post and instead (like everyone else) trawled the web, trying to make sense of what was happening.
It’s still too early to say anything ‘wise’… The best I can do is round up the things that make me hopeful. I also think that’s the best riposte to those who think shutting down social media is better than engaging with it when things go wrong - and might give us a sense of how we might use it better in the future.
Wolverhampton and Sussex: dealing with wild rumours on Twitter
Social networks have got a kicking for being the source of wildly inaccurate rumour. But Mark Payne in Wolverhampton and officers and staff at Sussex Police are among those who did an outstanding job in telling people what was and was not happening using Twitter.
- Mark did a huge amount of tweeting, helping to ensure the now-more-than-7,000 followers he has were kept up to date on what was going on. He quashed rumours, transmitted calm and kept people informed. He deserves enormous credit (as do his colleagues) – and not just the flowers that arrived for police from one grateful resident! Here (above) is just a sample of his tweets – please have a good rummage through his Twitter stream to see in detail what he’s done.
- In Sussex, rumours that spread about riots on London Road (they appear to have grown out of reports about London Road in Croydon) were quickly scotched by the police, who set up a live log on the website. To my mind, at least, this was the online equivalent of ‘move along now, nothing to see here’ – a lovely example of the police realising how their job translates online. Also check out the brilliant Christine Townsend and Nick Cloke on Twitter for more inspiration.
Exposing the looters: YouTube
We now, I think, know much more about the rioters and their victims than we would have done had we been relying, solely, on the TV and the radio. Clips of appalling incidents quickly made their way on to YouTube, were shared on Twitter and, in some instances, have provided a chillingly clear picture of just how unpleasant the behaviour of some individuals has been.
Is this a good thing? Firstly, photographs and videos are helping to identify who is involved. Secondly, the fact we’ve all seen more of what actually happened can’t be bad if it leads people to act in some of the ways I’m going to describe below…
How did several thousand people turn up, unannounced, to help clean up the streets? Well, you can read all about it here at Riot Cleanup. And here at (subtly different) Riots Cleanup. And Clean Tottenham. And Riot Rebuild. Or just search for #riotcleanup on Twitter.
Also see Operation Cup of Tea.
Without Twitter, Facebook and blogging would we have seen such a quick and determined mobilisation of people? I’m guessing not.
In just a few short days, I’ve seen three campaigns to raise money for:-
- the Malaysian student, Ashraf Haziq, mugged after he was injured in the riots
- a barber who lost his shop: Keep Aaron Biber cutting
- and another shopkeeper, Siva, who was left without a livelihood.
No doubt there are more. Thousands of pounds have been raised and, again, these were all co-ordinated and publicised online, using blogs and other social-web tools, including Twitter.
Satirising the looters: Photoshop Looter
The US media blog, Gawker, announced last week that Britain’s riots had become a ‘meme’. The appearance of, for example, Photoshoplooter, lampooning rioters, was an overnight success – and I think helped to send up the idiocy of many of those taking part.
Adrian Short is keen to find out more about what happened at Reeves Corner, where (at least to those in my family) rather legendary furniture shop, Reeves’, was burned to the ground. I’m sure others will look to make sense of what happened online and we’ll see more interesting investigations popping up… I wonder if there’s scope for using something like Help Me Investigate.
This is just a short list, I’m sure there’s much more. So, if you know about anything else that’s happened, I’d love to add them here. Please leave a comment if there’s anything at all…
Any conclusions to draw?
I know I said this would be a piece that’s about what’s happened not about what we can learn, but just a few things…
The social web doesn’t need to be dominated by spiralling rumour or malcontent and, if the rest of us (namely, the vast majority) are engaged and using it well, it can have an enormously positive impact.
- If the police and other authorities are present and telling us what’s going on..
- If they’re in touch with other people who can be trusted to help spread the message of what’s happening but also help to provide police with valuable information.
- If, generally, we use the web to help us to tell the real stories of what’s happening and to work together to ensure we stay safe and can help each other.
Wishful thinking? Maybe, but the social web isn’t going anywhere, any time soon, so we’re going to have to make the best of it, come what may…