England has been at the centre of a public outcry in the form of riots since the last few days. The effect that the Internet has had on these riots is two-fold.
The riots first broke out on the 6th of August in retaliation to police shooting a 29-year-old man named Mark Duggan in Tottenham (North-East London) on the 4th of August.
Local residents started to protest outside the Tottenham police station, but the protest then spread to a much larger area, involving about 20 neighbourhoods. The protest quickly turned into a violent riot.
A lot of the rioters resorted to using the Internet as a means of coordinating their “protests”. Possibly the most popular means here has been Blackberry Messenger, which allows people to communicate through its instant messaging technology in-built on all Blackberry handsets.
Other services such as Facebook and Twitter were also used, of course.
Not only were people instigated to take part in the riots through the use of these services, but photos and videos of arson were also uploaded and circulated widely. This further instigated otherwise casual observers to join in on the rioting and looting.
The other side to this story is the fact that the very technology that helped spread the violence is now being used to identify and locate the perpetrators of the violence.
Metropolitan Police using Flickr to catch London looters
Blackberry’s instant messaging service RIM will now be used by the police to find those who instigated the public to eventually led to so much of damage and destruction.
It is believed that the police are already making use of the data provided by RIM, and working within the guidelines of the Data Protection Act they will be able to make use of this information to nab the culprits.
Some civilians are also helping the police with this investigation. A group of people from Google have formed London Riots Facial Recognition. This is a group that requires membership and will make use of technology to help identify the arsonists.
Even more admirably, a number of civilian groups also used social media to band together and fight off looters as well as to organise clean-up groups to rectify the damage in their neighbourhoods without waiting for the government to act on it.
While London is quickly recovering from the shock and remedying the damage already done, most have been remind that while technology can be harmful in the hands of the wrong people, it can be extremely helpful when used by the right people with the right intentions.