So, any insights from riot coverage and conversations on Twitter and mainstream media?

I followed #ukriots and #bristolriots for a couple of days more or less continuously (except when I was asleep) :P. Here’s some observations:

  • Some idiocy – far, far too many people posting reports of riots with ‘apparently’.
  • Many people anxiously tweeting every siren they hear – an example of something that’s routine suddenly seeming to be significant. How often can’t you hear a siren in any major British city? (One of the strange things about Mumbai – possibly the world’s largest city, and frequent venue for riots and mobs – is that you rarely hear a siren. More on that another time).
  • Lots of outpourings of fear, and concern and anger – wholly understandable.
  • Some very funny satire and commentary. Some people are particularly adept at getting ‘lol’ moments into 140 characters. Once again, brevity is the soul of wit. Should riots be mocked? The stupid aspects of them should, yes. When there’s no longer anything funny…well it’s no longer funny. And at that point, that’s where we should start really worrying.
  • And then some really interesting stuff, which might be useful for those engaged anywhere in civic society – public sector or voluntary.

The really interesting stuff

1. #riotscleanup got the mainstream coverage it deserved. I’ll be surprised if you haven’t seen this already. It’s great. Volunteerism isn’t new. Taking care of where you live isn’t new. But it’s often a quiet, thankless activity by a hardy few. Social media like Twitter can channel people’s desire to help much more effectively. It also validates the activity – participation likely increases when you know other people will be doing it – and also provides validation by making it easy for mass media to discover and feature grassroots activity, which in turn spreads the story wider.

2. the use of Twitter and other channels by police, local authorities and heroic individuals to spread calm. Panic would be too easy – myriad unverified tweets about possible disturbances, combined with of TV footage on-repeat of the most dramatic incidents could easily build the impression armageddon is taking place in the cities of the UK.

Not to downplay serious incidents, but with judicious camera angles, it’s easy to create the impression of an end-of-days scene.

I went and checked out the morning-after evidence in Bristol for myself; yes violence and destruction took place. But the scene in the most affected streets amounted to one torched car and one torched bin, surrounded by other untouched cars, houses, flats, businesses and intact street furniture. In context, it’s easy to see that the real impact wasn’t much. Meanwhile BBC TV coverage of the same scene easily gives the impression that the entire district has been laid to waste.

So it’s refreshing to see police forces and councils spreading calm – some examples below.

This is a simple and obvious way to spread calm. Or at least it seems obvious now; even a couple of years ago it would have been a novelty (kudos to those who have spent years evangelising the benefits of public sector social media use).

Another nice idea that emerged was the simple use of the #noriotshere tag. Alongside that, I also wanted to mention @bristolriots, a 21 year old with a bike and a smart phone who has been gamely cycling around Bristol (steep hills mind), checking out and debunking reports of riots.

And finally, don’t know if this is true, but it’s a good story – Devon and Cornwall Police click ‘attending’ for a riot event on Facebook 🙂

Devon police attending riot