The use of social media in last week’s riots, for both good and bad, has been well documented and analysed. However, in Nottingham, like I’m sure in other cities, we encountered an additional problem with social media.
Nottingham is a city that last week feared an escalation to the sort of looting, violence and destruction seen in London and beyond. A combination of strong community policing, outreach work from the council and its partners and ultimately the police refusing to let people attack the city’s businesses meant the violence was both targeted elsewhere (namely police stations) and short lived. When people realised they weren’t going to get access to our businesses they soon got bored.
Those facts, however did not stop Nottingham’s social media networks adding fuel to the anxiety and worries of residents with totally unsubstantiated claims of destruction on the streets. The rebuttal of these lies took up an immense amount of police and council time. I’m sure it fuelled people’s attendance, and then participation, in the violence which was going on. When police resources were vital in controlling the situation and getting out Nottingham’s message that it was ‘business as usual’, too much time was spent setting the record straight.
And here lies a question for modern society: if posting untrue and scaremongering statements online comes with no consequence, how can we stop it?
From Primark in Bulwell completely up in flames (Bulwell doesn’t have a Primark) to Maid Marian Way looking like Baghdad (not a single act of violence occurred on Maid Marian way) the lies simply worked to create a negative image of the city and further raise the fear and worry of residents and businesses.
I love social media – the ability of people to organise and inform quickly is something society is embracing. But people need to understand the consequences of their actions on the wider public. And with the consequences not visible through the screen of an iPhone or BlackBerry how do we get the message out to people of the danger these actions pose?
This for me is exactly what Ed Miliband means when he slammed the ‘me first’ culture. One person’s pleasure in posting untrue and dangerous tweets compared to the safety and feelings of wider society when they believe their community is up in smoke.
Just as we need to look for a way to challenge the issues which lead to last week’s violence a smaller issue to address is society’s conscience when it comes to truth.
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