The following blog post originally appeared on our Kyoo Business Blog.
With social media’s inherent ability to communicate, share and interact, it has the ability to make waves far beyond what we had originally foreseen. It is much more powerful than just the benefits it provides for businesses or individuals; it fuels a new power for the people. Social media has changed the way we react to things from thinking about it, to doing it. It’s a mix of peer pressure, support and the effortlessness social media has for connecting like-minded people.
Lately, social media has been a huge player in protests and events across the world, from the UK to Wall Street. It’s not just one side of the spectrum either; social media is also used as a reactionary tool, banding people together to not only bring down but also to clean-up and reach out to aid in the reconstruction of the community.
Social media has the power to help with every stage of a riot or event from organization of the people, coverage of the happenings and reaction to the chaos.
The UK Riots utilized Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messenger to organize rioters to get together in certain locations. It is said that riots stem from the confirmation of others, watching it on television entices already existing anger and gives a sense of others “doing something about it”. Now with the aid of social media, like minded people can easily get together, have common ground and organize events.
It’s not just one outlet, and there are no barriers to get involved. The easy creation of a Facebook page shared by friends, who shared it to friends, creates a virality that can spread faster than news broadcast, with the added punch of social verification. Your friends are fans, your best friend likes this, and your neighbor says he’s going. Why shouldn’t you join in?
From Facebook and Twitter to Flickr and YouTube, each has it’s piece in projecting a voice, documenting an event and banding concerned citizens together.
Angry UK citizens created Facebook pages vowing revenge and encouraging supporters. The ability for friends to see each others groups and pages involved in gives a potent mix of virality, from the ease of sharing and social confirmation, by showing your friends are doing it.
“If you’re friends jumped off a bridge would you?” ..no, but I would sure as hell burn one down if they were.
Young activists created a youth movement Twitter account during Libya’s revolution to lead and encourage others to rally together. Twitter was utilized as a virtual soap box, giving activists the bull horn they needed to attract, excite and deploy their troops.
During the Tunisia Revolution, The Atlantic shed light on how Facebook had been a leading role in getting people involved, explaining that within a short time “several hundred thousand more users were from Tunisia, a country with a few more people than Michigan. Scaled up to the size to the U.S., the burst of activity was like adding 10 million users in a week. And the average time spent on the site more than doubled what it had been before.” The people of Tunisia found a “safe place” where they had a voice when all other media was shut down.
Occupy Wall Street hashtags, #ows and #occupywallstreet, shared with the world new occupy events happening in cities around the US. Facebook pages were created to organize carpooling to encourage more participants to events.
By following the hashtag #londonriots, #ukriots or a number of other localized versions on Twitter, concerned and interested parties from across the world were able to get first hand accounts of what is happening.
During just 1 week (8/10 – 8/17), there were more than 400 thousand mentions of the UK Riots, with a reach of over 140 million on Facebook and Twitter alone.
During Libya’s media blackout, Libyans were still able to utilize social media to share video footage and images of what was going on that would have otherwise would have been concealed from the rest of the world.
Just as the rioters were able to utilize these mediums, law enforcement should have been monitoring them as well.
In many cases, everyday people took it upon themselves to utilize the tools out there to make a difference in the aftermath of the riots.
Locals created the Tumblr page, “Catch a Looter” to help publicly oust those who were involved in Lootings across London and calling on the community to identify them.
Following suit, police started a Flickr account where they too were asking for the public’s help identifying suspected criminals. They also began to monitor Facebook and Twitter to help prevent a few additional riots.
The aftermath of the riot was destruction. Concerned citizens began to organize a clean up initiative, counteracting the negative use of social media with the creation of the user account @riotcleanup and hashtag “#riotcleanup” began to spread through Twitter, along with locations and information on what locals could do to help.
Clean up Facebook groups started to pop up as well, many having a local focus to clean up certain areas, others encouraging everyone, everywhere to do what they can to help clean up what the riots had left behind.
Social media helped organize protests, gather crowds and magnify voices of every day people. It helped events get exposure, in many cases having all other mediums closed off. It’s giving power to the people, but will the people use it responsibly?
How would these tools have affected events in the past like 9/11 or the Death of Princess Diana?
Should we expect to see an increase in riots with social media being the voice of the people?