London's Burning - Again!

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With the recent explosion of violence in Tottenham, just how large a role has social media played in the resulting events?

As the economy heads for a double-dip, the USA loses its credit rating and the Euro is about to collapse you'd think we had enough to deal with. But apparently not, not for those who somehow have decided it is a good idea to destroy our communities with senseless acts of violence and disrespect -The reason for this outburst of violence? – A police officer opened fire on a civilian (although he had a gun there is no evidence to say he was using it in a threatening way) and killed him.

A second excuse that has emerged is the lack of employment for the younger generations of today. They want to be heard, they are frustrated (a hint of sarcasm intended). Well, taking these 2 reasons into account there seems to be an unbalance in the actions taken as a result. Let's consider Newton's Third Law – 'For every action there is an equal, opposite reaction' – Doesn't really fit in this case.

In what educated mind is it a good idea to set fire to a city? – There is no logic, but perhaps I have hit the nail on the head. These people are not educated, they likely have little respect for anything anyway, oh, and I imagine they would never have bothered looking for a job regardless of circumstances. They have simply found an almost OK enough reason to behave like yobs.

Rant over, I do wonder what part social media has played in the recent events in Tottenham. How has this violence spread to other parts of England? Is social media to blame?

Of course we rely on the news and newspapers to keep us informed of current affairs both locally and worldwide, but has the news become a glory hunter's playground? It is all just about ratings?

Let us now compare two forms of the same news broadcast –

  1. Newsreader at desk, stating facts of the events.
  2. Newsreader at scene, eyewitness reports, image and video, drama.

It is clear (and not rocket science) that option 2 would make the largest impact even though both examples would be giving the same value of information.

Moving onto social media then, I will use Twitter as my main platform for explanation. Currently there are no real clearly defined censorship laws on social media sites (Facebook allows you to block content from your own feed or report 'offensive' material).

What is Twitters Censorship policy?

As one of my colleagues pointed out, Twitter's censorship policy seems rather vague. It stipulates that you must abide by local laws, which is in a sense passing the book on to each country's own legal system. (Of course protests are illegal in many countries but in the UK, Twitter it seems, has not censored the protests concerning this event). Twitter, as with other social networks is in a position where they have to make an ethical call on what is and isn't acceptable; a grey area of law and politics that social networks just do not want to get involved in.

 

"Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content." – Taken from 'The Twitter Rules'

In Twitters Rules, they do state that any offensive content may be disallowed and you may lose your account, at the discretion of Twitter. However, this does not really provide a clear cut answer to what is appropriate content. Surely Twitter could have an auto-alert system in place that flags up an alert on certain keyword terms (similar to how a PPC account uses keywords in Google search results). Such examples may be-

  1. Once an offensive word has been used X amount of times, a 'yellow alert' is flagged. Then there needs to be an investigation into the content around this feed.
  2. Social media working with the authorities to alert of a possible event / danger evidenced from topics on Twitter.

Of course logistically speaking this will probably never happen and we will all just have to continue to live in a society of people who are happy to try their hardest and others who are happy to ruin it.

Why is it good?

  1. It allows a sense of community to be built up with people uniting against the violence.
  2. It is an outlet for people to vent their frustrations about something that most people feel powerless to do anything about.

Why is it bad?

  1. It is a very easy platform to aid in the co-ordination of an event such as this in a widespread area without ever having to meet face-to-face.
  2. There are such a vast number of people on Twitter (175million worldwide) that one person could reach the masses at the click of a button.

I am by no means saying that social media is bad. In fact, I'm quite the fan, but when its properties are used in an inappropriate way I feel there must be more that can be done by the social media sites in order to protect its users.

On a more positive note, Twitter has redeemed itself (or should I say the Twitter users have re-instilled my confidence in the social network) by showing that we can use social media platforms to create unity and community spirit. There has been an account created in recent days called @riotcleanup where people from all over are coming together to try and clean up the destruction in the streets of London. By using Twitter and Facebook as a platform for communication, tens and hundreds of people are already doing their bit to help.

Facebook, Twitter and Google+ know that it is in their best interests to deal with the censorship issues that crop up every so often. The question is do they care more about their users safety and protection or more about the 'buzz' of the latest 'trending' topic?