Social Media: Friend or Foe?
August 18, 2011
The recent riots in London provided frightening insight on the implications of how pervasive social media is in today’s culture.
What began as a nonviolent protest in response to the shooting of Mark Duggan quickly turned chaotic and dangerous after a few hours.
Many blame the rapid progression of violence on the communications abilities that social media provides. Outraged British citizens first rallied together on a Facebook page in memory of Duggan, and then took to the streets, torching buses, looting stores and creating mayhem. Participants received numerous messages via Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger to join in the action and to then upload footage and post text detailing their involvement. The accessibility of social media and its ability to rapidly and widely disseminate information caused the events to spiral into an all-out war between citizens and police personnel.
While social media has the potential to evolve into a forum of grievances and a launching pad for orchestrated violence, it also has the ability to serve as a community space for unifying for good.
Nashvillians were witness to the benefits of instant access to information in the spring of 2010 during the unprecedented flooding that engulfed the city. During this time, citizens received updates on the locations of standing water and the damage done and, afterward, were provided with ways to help rebuild the community.
Currently, Londoners are following the #riotcleanup hashtag in an effort to restore their community and to re-establish Twitter as a positive social medium.
Ultimately, the public should reflect on the message they are attempting to send and the possible consequences of their actions before literally broadcasting their text to the entire world.
Social media itself is neither a force for evil nor a force for good; it is the people who use it who inject it with meaning. Many messages deserve to be condemned, but don’t condemn the medium in the process.