It’s been a really long week. I live in a London suburb and up until a few days ago that would have been an entirely unexceptional state of affairs. However the events of the last few days have taken place largely in city suburbs – I’m just fortunate that mine never became a direct part of the drama.
Just on Monday, tabloids were blaming Twitter for causing the riots in Tottenham on Saturday night. However it didn’t take long for word to get out that that it’s actually Blackberry – with its private and free BBM Network – not Twitter, that’s the communication tool of choice for rioters.
On Tuesday morning, almost 30,000 people were following @riotcleanup and #riotwombles was mobilizing the biggest clean up crew London has probably seen since the Blitz. Wombles, by the way, are fictional little furry creatures that collect garbage and generally tidy up around Wimbledon Common in London. After witnessing awful riot footage over the last couple of days, the image below of a clean up crew by @Lawcol888 couldn’t have come at a better time.
People were really taking action now: peace efforts continued on Facebook with the likes of Operation Cup of Tea; Catch a Looter sprang up so people could post pictures of looters to pass on to the police.
By late yesterday, people were being sent home from work early, businesses were closing and no one quite knew what would happen next. Nationwide, police had to not only make sure they were prepared for looting, but also keep people calm. @HantsPolice is just one example of how it was done well – instantly responding to tweets and supplying a steady flow of information to keep people informed and quash rumours.
It’s Wednesday morning and although London was relatively quiet last night, the clean up continues today and more riots took place in Manchester and Liverpool. Who knows what will happen next but I can’t imagine what state of mind we’d all be in right now, if it wasn’t for social media. Yes, I have been glued to the TV, and journalists have been working overtime to report the latest, but it’s been through social media that I’ve kept up to date with the latest hotspots to avoid, been able to track the well being of my friends at the centre of the riots, and been empowered to do something about it.
Social media, which started the week accused of being the ‘cause’ of the riots, has turned into the single most useful tool to boost the morale of locals and clean up the city. It’s become a part of the fabric of our lives, keeping us connected, organized, and empowered.
Maeve O’Sullivan is Content Director for social specialists Headstream. She develops and manages content for the agency, engages with communities across social networks, blogging, tweeting and networking her heart out. Find Maeve on Twitter @maeve_os and @Headstream.