After the riots: a view from Camden

Posted on 10/08/2011


The view from Primrose Hill at 6pm on the 9th August gives no impression of the turmoil in the city below

There’ll be many words written and much philosophising done about how and why the recent riots took place.

It is never going to be as simplistic as blaming the parents or the ‘feral’ nature of the today’s youth for the disturbances.

But while disaffection, alienation and unemployment caused by recent political decisions plays some role, this can not be an excuse for a social phenomenon where respect for law, order, property and public decency broke down so obviously.

As BBC News is reporting today, the participants in the riots currently before the courts have very different stories and very different backgrounds. Yet all took part.

It will be interesting to hear, not from politicians, but from the perpatrators as they try and explain their actions in court. An independent inquiry to then assess this evidence sounds like a sound suggestion if we actually want to learn how to prevent future riots like those we’ve seen.

The riots also brought into sharp focus how social media can be a force for both good and evil.

The not burned down Electric Ballroom in Camden

The role of BlackBerry Messenger as well as more limited uses of Facebook and Twitter to organise and outwit the police should also be investigated. Social media also helped spread mis-information, and not just to spark disturbances.

For example, based on inaccurate radio reports, tweets from people, who weren’t even on the scene, claimed the Electric Ballroom in Camden was burning down. Twitter outrage among the music community poured forth, but as the picture right shows, it was still very much standing on the evening of 9th August. But, as with much else in Camden, boarded up as part of the ‘clampdown’ on the evening of the 9th.

Despite things in London being bad enough, this trend of having to ‘out victim’ the victims is another interesting facet of social media, which will intrigue sociologists.

But for all the evil which may try to be pinned on social media, it was also a massive force for good.

The extent to which people were using location based hashtags on Twitter to update neighbours, who they may never have met, and the concern showed by some users was touching.

In Camden, pictures of residents serving tea to the police and other heartwarming shots were circulated.

Facebook, as usual, was also where people turned to ‘check in’ with friends and family.

And as the Twitter organised RiotCleanUp demonstrated, when social media taps into a wider social feeling, it becomes the most effective and fastest way to organise a force for good.