Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Social media questions

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.

Photo: Gillian Maniscalco

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Jamie McMahon

Jamie McMahon is a Labour Party activist working for the Labour Group of Nottingham City Council.

1 comment

  • Jamie,

    Not sure you can without making the problem go underground or become more difficult.

    These are dangerous times across the Globe and the line one walks has to be destinct from that being practised in Libya and Syria. What might be helpful though might be in the aknowledgement of political failure. Not a complete failure but a significant one that will be exposed further if the economy declines further (and the signs do not look great at the moment).

    We need a significant change to our politics.

    If one attempts to tighten the vice on communication, I can only see it increasing public distrust of the State and encourage the idea of public anger building up rather than having an outlet and expression. At the moment we have observed the latest expression of moral failings in our country and though it was bad, it has hardly brought our country to a stand still, though the deaths that occured were incredibly sad and tragic. The good news was that it was not a majority/mainsteam movement.

    I fear that may come and minifest in all sorts of ways, in ways we have not seen before as the big political parties are not really representative of anyone who has come or will come a cropper of the economic hardship.

    The weirdest development has been the weak position of the political leaders (sorry Ed) who have committed themselves to helping and supporting people who are already working and being in manifest denial, as far as I can tell, towards the economic problems and the people who have lost their jobs, who the “elites” have decided to blame for the whole business.

    Is it any wonder people are getting a tad miffed?

    Is it any wonder we are not seeing any substantial growth?

    Politicans who experience no change in their own lifestyles (worrying in the exteme) whose policy position is still based upon a boom time environment.

    Of course what we need are people who understand what is going on. You would not consider that a lot to ask for would you?

    We see this with Osborne’s outdated reliance on enforced unsuccessful economic dogma.

    Going back to the main thrust of this article, one might consider my comments here as not “towing the Government’s line”, and a potential source of contribution towards social unrest, should it then be silenced?

    Its a dangerous path to walk and i would not rcommend trying to control what people say or even how they organise themselves, for in these unenlightened and ignorant times we forget the very principles and freedoms that have saved our democracy from totalitarianism by communists of fascists and even helped to form the Labour Party as a peaceful democratic movement and Political Party.

    Finally what begins as silencing one platform, then moves onto another and another and Jamie, you may find yourself being silenced when you feel strongly about something whatever your motive, but being unable to meet any of your fellow progressives……….We need to be strengthening democracy, transparency and accountability, then we can strengthen the Rule of Law, which means respecting it for the most of us, and fearing it for those who are less inclined towards abiding by it, wherever they are…..

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