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If you’ve been following the news footage of rioting and looting in London and other British cities over the past few days, you’ll be aware that a situation which began in some unfortunate community policing – after a young man was shot while evading arrest – has ended in a three-night free-for-all for organised looters, setting fire to businesses, stealing things, and generally trashing the communities they (may or may not) live in.
This is not a unique situation. Riots are not new. But it’s interesting to hear that a lot of the more organised looters have apparently been using Blackberry Messenger and Twitter to co-ordinate their raids, and are now bragging about the things they’ve stolen, using similar social media sites.
Incidentally it’s starting to become clear that this is where we’re at now. Righteous indignation on Saturday has given way to deliberate crime today.
This is how bad things got yesterday, with a young man who has clearly been attacked, being helped to his feet by an older youth, before having his bag rifled, and his possessions stolen, by several young people drunk on their own bad behaviour. It’s a film which says more about what is going on than any amount of burning buildings or stolen TVs (and it was taken using a cellphone and uploaded to Facebook)
Of course, social media being what it is, people have also been quick to condemn the actions of the looters, and have also been getting together via Twitter and Facebook to organise a clean-up of the areas which have been worst affected. As of 10am this morning (BST), a lot of the North London riot sites were cleaned up, although fires are still being put out, and Clapham Junction (in the South) is still unsafe for clean-up squads to enter.
And Tumblr is playing a part too, with sites such as Catch-A-Looter aiming to pull together as much footage of people smashing up shops as possible, in order that they be brought to justice for their actions.
Which is, if you think about it, a sign that things are exactly how they should be. Social media and the internet are being used to reflect and facilitate the actions of people on both sides of an awful situation.
Whether they would ever have enough power to prevent future riots is yet to be tested. Certainly there are a lot of plans being discussed right now across all manner of forums, real and electronic. Tonight’s going to be very interesting indeed.
Hopefully for the right reasons.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic