Twits and Brits

How Blackberry, not Twitter, fuelled the fire under London’s riots

Over the weekend parts of London descended into chaos as riots and looting spread after a protest organised around the yet unexplained shooting of a man by Police. Of course, there was huge amounts of chatter on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, with the latter coming under enormous amounts of criticism from the UK press for fuelling the fire. But while Twitter has largely been the venue of spectators to violence and is a handy public venue for journalists to observe, it would appear the non-public BlackBerry BBM messaging network has been the method of choice for organising it.

The background to the current riots are convoluted. In 1985 a notorious riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate after Cynthia Jarrett, an African Caribbean woman, died during a police search of her home, later saw a Policeman, PC Keith Blakelock killed. That lead to years of mistrust between Police and local communities, not helped by the fact that parts of North London, around Tottenham remain to this day areas of ongoing economic deprivation.

Anarchy is interesting because it exposes the fault lines in society and institutions. It is fundamentally iconoclastic, insofar as the worshippers of societal icons are the most disturbed.

Certainly violence is bad for the people who suffer it, but the most disturbed people are those who worship icons from afar. That is why, for example, the 9/11 attacks represented some kind of cosmic disturbance for some Americans, even though many more people die more pathetic and violent deaths every year.

The Tottenham incidents suggest certain interesting conclusions:

  • The rioters were mostly not “economically deprived.”
  • The rioting was not primarily political.
  • The rioting was not spontaneous.
  • Twitter is really quite useless except for PR flacks and fame whores. Twitter is not well suited for organizing secret conspiracies.
  • Politicians need to either bribe mobs or intimidate them.

Whether politicians decide to bribe mobs or intimidate them has mostly to do with who the mobs identify with. Politicians bribe their constituents and intimidate their opponents’ constituents.

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