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Surprising Science

London Riots and Social Media Duality

Social networks are just a tool, says Londoner Peter Bright. Like any tool, some will use them for ill ends, but many others will put them to positive uses. Take London, for example.

What’s the Latest Development?

For the past three nights, riots have broken out across England. In cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool, masked hoodlums have looted shops, burned cars and set entire buildings ablaze. The best way for civilians to follow the news, and presumably law enforcement as well, has been via social networks like Twitter and B.B.M., Blackberry’s closed communication platform. Now Blackberry says it will cooperate with authorities and open its network to the police. Meanwhile, the same social media are being used to organize cleanup efforts. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While social media can clearly be used for good and ill, secrecy on social networks may be a line that divides the two distinct dispositions. The democratic uprisings in Iran and Egypt utilized Twitter in a very public way. Such is the nature of democracy that it functions best when it is in plain view. The recent riots, on the other hand, have depended on secrecy to shield their wrongdoings from those who would prevent them. Blackberry has been quick to give authorities in Saudi Arabia, India and the United Arab Emirates access to its B.B.M. network. 


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