Five ways social media was used during the London riots

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been blamed for augmenting the recent violent riots in London and other English metropoles. Speaking to British newspaper The Guardian, Steve Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said that “inflammatory” and “inaccurate” messages on Twitter helped fuel the riots.

“Social media and other methods have been used to organize these levels of greed and criminality,” Kavanagh said.

Social media has also been used to help those who have been affected by the riots.

Below, Memeburn looks at five ways in which social media was used during, and in the aftermath of, the riots to facilitate communication and share information.


The microblogging platform has been dubbed the “medium of revolution” following its successful usage during the Egyptian uprising. According to the BBC, a “number of politicians, media commentators and members of the police force have suggested that Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger, in particular, had a role to play.” There has, however, been no solid proof of this.

In contrast, there are a number of Twitter hashtags being used to aid victims of the riots such as #LondonRiots and #riotcleanup. British comedian Simon Pegg is one of the many people using these hashtags:

BlackBerry Messenger

Blackberry’s proprietary free private messaging service has been heavily blamed for “helping” coordinate the riots. In a statement to VentureBeat, Research In Motion said: “As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces.”


A Facebook page has been created in support of the Metropolitan police. According to the page, it is “For those that support the Met police against these petty thieves and vandals costing us tax payers even more with their mindless vandalism and theft.”

The page has more than 890 000 fans and has posts pertaining to the riots and possible solutions.


In what can be called “modern policing” @metpoliceuk has set up a Flickr account to catch looters. The project has been dubbed Operation Withern, and the aim is to investigate the series of riots through identifying and naming suspects.

“Operation Withern is investigating the serious disorder and violence that has been affecting parts of London,” the account states.

“Operation Withern’s priority is to bring to justice those who have committed violent and criminal acts. As the detailed and thorough investigation progresses we will be issuing photographs of people we want to speak with.”

Google group

A Google group called London Riots Facial Recognition was created after the riots began. The group’s aim is to use facial recognition technologies to identify the looters who appear in online photos. The discussion threads on the group deal with the “Ethical Issues,” surrounding the technology and serious consideration into the legalities of the images, making sure that the group is “Keeping Things Legal“.

Users have also offered their assistance in “building a tool using the Face.API, which could help identify people in photos posted on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. There is even talk of using the Facebook Graph API and the Twitter API in conjunction with the one to help better identify the criminals,” as tech blog Techcrunch reports.



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