UPDATE – Blackberry has issued a statement (see below) on Twitter to say it is working with the authorities.
The Sun says that rioters used Twitter to swell their numbers and “orchestrate the Tottenham violence” as message were sent inciting others to join in as they sent messages urging: “Roll up and loot”.
The Sun quoted one tweeter who posted: “one sick tweet even called on rioters to KILL police officers in a chilling reminder of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during a riot nearby in 1985”.
It said as crowds plundered shops and other businesses and swelled during the night as looters used Twitter to brag about their hauls and spread word of their locations:
A user calling himself “English Frank” called for attacks on police, posting: “Everyone up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 5-0 (police). I hope 1 dead tonight.” In a clear encouragement to looting, “Sonny Twag” tweeted: “Want to roll Tottenham to loot. I do want a free TV. Who wudn’t.” Joining in the Twitter frenzy, “Ashley AR” posted: “I hear Tottenham’s going coco-bananas right now. Watch me roll up with a spud gun,” the Sun reported.
The Daily Mail also joined in and said that “fears that violence was fanned by Twitter as picture of burning police car was re-tweeted more than 100 times “.
“I suspect it’s a case of ‘journalistic licence’. And presumably The Mail considers its own images of burning vehicles and those broadcast on rolling news channels to millions through the night to be less controversial than those posted and retweeted “more than 100 times” on Twitter”.
“Further down the article any doubts that Twitter’s was a mere bit-part in the violence have vanished altogether as it is a declared a bull blown “Twitter riot” in one of the image captions,” according to the Mediablog.
It is clearly ridiculous to apportion any blame directly on Twitter, but as the Telegraph says the “disorder was captured second-by-second on Twitter” mirroring the way the event was also being reported.
Blackberry: a riot brand
Twitter is no more a tool than a mobile phone and the instant messaging that brings with it. The Telegraph story talked about how gang members were using Blackberry phones and how they have “become increasingly popular with members of urban gangs and teenagers”.
Their popularity is due in a large part to the free and instant Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service – and now there are new phones for many considering the number of mobile phone stores looted (like the picture of the 02 store in Wood Green above).
The Blackberry story is echoing around the web. Techcrunch points out that BlackBerrys “can often cost less than smartphones like Androids or iPhones, which are typically the choice of Twitter users due to the wide range of client applications”.
“And remember, Androids and iPhones don’t run the free BBM network, and no other group messaging app has yet taken hold in the UK. As a result BlackBerrys have become the weapon of choice of Britain’s disaffected youth”, Techcrunch reported.
It also pointed to another post by Jonathan Akwue that highlighted how BBM is fast, free and private and is dubbed a “shadow social network” invisible to Police snooping. There is an image of a possible BBM organising message at the foot of post via @Luke1972.
Two sides to the social story
There were in essence two sides of the social story. Rioters egged each other on via social networks while the majority used it share news and information.
The mirroring can easily be seen in the action of rioters who were so caught up in the looting that they were posting incriminating pictures of themselves in the act and in one case this guy with his haul of stolen goods.
While the Mail and Sun were busily blaming Twitter others have been more sensible and coming out to defend it. Speed Communications MD Stephen Waddington told PR Week:
“Twitter is being used to exchange messages and discuss the riots in the way that previous generations used technology such as phone, email and SMS.
“To claim that Twitter had a role in the Tottenham riots is as credible as placing the blame at the hands of mobile phone handset manufacturers or mobile operators.”
BBM organising message
The Urban Mash-up blog says that “Canadian police officers have previously complained that criminals prefer using Blackberry Messenger because it is harder to wiretap”. Was BBM used in the recent Vancouver riots?
Interesting question, does all of this damage the already weakened Blackberry brand?
BlackBerry issues statement re Tottenham riots and use of BBM
It will be interesting to see what this Blackberry statement below means for those using Blackberry phones to organise criminal activity. So far the police have only talked about Twitter, but clearly they are well aware of the advantage that such a network as Blackberry’s BBM is to criminals.