Social media to blame for London riots?

By Anne Collier

That’s what British Prime Minister Cameron is asking, CNN Tech reports. And the House of Commons’s shadow secretary of culture, Ivan Lewis, told The Guardian that he “supports the government’s decision to undertake a review of whether measures are necessary to prevent the abuse of social media by those who organize and participate in criminal activities.” Did the prime minister and MP know that social media were also used to organized the clean up from the rioting (see and this in the Carroll County Times about a young American who helped?). So in the past, perhaps governments should’ve considered what measures were necessary to prevent such abuse of Skyblogs (in the case of the Paris riots of 2005), telephones, and – for previous generations – messengers (see this about France’s Skyrock in Wikipedia)? Especially with social media, there seems to be a compulsion to blame the messenger.

But here’s a little context for Mr. Cameron and Mr. Lewis, suggesting they step back a bit as they consider the role of technology: “Across the world, a lot of middle- and lower-middle-class people now feel that the ‘future’ is out of their grasp, and they are letting their leaders know it,” wrote columnist Tom Friedman in yesterday’s New York Times. “Why now? It starts with the fact that globalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level. Thanks to cloud computing, robotics, 3G wireless connectivity, Skype, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, the iPad, and cheap Internet-enabled smartphones, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected … the single most important trend in the world today…. All this technology and globalization are eliminating more and more ‘routine’ work – the sort of work that once sustained a lot of middle-class lifestyles.” Friedman quotes a slogan of Israel’s middle-class uprising: “We are fighting for an accessible future.” That has to be even more scary to political leaders than street riots – though, to them, perhaps less of an emergency. But shutting down communications channels will not stop the struggle or the pain causing it. Focusing on social media as the problem is a huge distraction that I hope our leaders will move past soon so they can be open to collaborating on that accessible-future issue.

Related links

* “Do we have a right to use Twitter and Facebook?” at
* “Blame the hooligans, not the technology they use” by my ConnectSafely co-director in the San Jose Mercury News, mentioning Facebook’s new Messenger for mobile phones (not that different from BlackBerry Messenger, except for FB members)

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