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UK Riots and the Internet: How They Destroyed Lives

Friday, 26 August 2011 13:15 in Blogs, Features by Faye Shippam

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Recently in the UK, close to my home, there have been riots. Hearing stories of children, adults and, of course, 'youths', murdering, mugging and looting has been a scary experience. Some people blame the parenting of the generation, perhaps the news uncovers a different story as the riots involved not just youths, but a thirty-one year old teacher, eleven year olds, men, women, children and people of all races. One common factor was the technology that provided the means to communicate and without doubt helped the riots to gather momentum.

Nearly half of all UK teenagers now have a smartphone according to Ofcom. In March 2011, Ofcom found BlackBerry to be the most popular choice (37%) for young adults and teens. This also represents the largest age group of the rioters and many reports have linked the use of BlackBerrys to the spreading of messages about the riots.

Young people like the BlackBerry Messaging services (BBM) because it is free to use, can be used as often as liked and messages can be sent to as many people as wanted in a short space of time. Before the riots, BlackBerry BBM was untraceable – this made it easy to communicate information about the location and timing of planned riots.

Seeing this as a violation of its service, BlackBerry may now have to change some of its terms so that messages can be traced by the authorities. Although technology isn't to blame for these acts, it has been used as a tool to help criminals organise their crimes.

Somewhat controversially, two men have received four years imprisonment each for inciting looting and rioting by the use of social networking sites. They invited friends and family to meet "behind maccies" to go looting and rioting. Meanwhile, rioters are not the only ones using the Internet as a means to an end. The Police have been using Twitter to name and shame rioters and looters, spreading photos on Facebook and other social networking sites in the belief that everyone is connected to everyone else through six steps, a sort of six degrees of separation technique. Some people think this is morally wrong, but perhaps naming and shaming is the best thing for the current situation. If the people involved in the situation are made an example of they are less likely to repeat the same behaviour and they are less likely to be copied.

Technology has also been used to try to save some of the communities that were in danger of being destroyed by the riots. Local people to the riots, came out and cleared up the mess in the true spirit of community action. There are countless Facebook pages and events with thousands of people taking part in "Operation Cup of Tea", an attempt to rescue what they see as lost communities. This shows the internet can be used also to support and help all of those who have lost something, whether its faith in the human race or their home.

These types of actions are signs that the Internet can be used for good. Other similar examples can be found around the world for instance WikiCrimes, a website for the anonymous reporting of crimes that maps hotspots and raises awareness about pockets of crime. WikiCrimes is big in Brazil with other South American countries following this lead.

The Internet is a powerful tool and I hope the actions of a few will not lead to the disadvantage of the majority.

If you find yourself under any form of peer pressure on the internet, to take part in any type of activity, you can find help and advice on a number of websites. Here are a few suggestions:

The UK Police has a helpful site with information about reporting local crime and links to helpful advice on a number of subjects.

Welcome to our feature: "A Teen Talks Cyber Security".

Faye Shippam

We are pleased to welcome a new guest blogger, Faye Shippam. As a victim of cyberbullying Faye has turned her attention to helping others in a similar position and will be posting her views as well as providing help and advice on the subject of cyber security.

Faye is a student, edits her college magazine and wants to spread the message about staying safe online further afield. She is also into marine biology, likes running and is a self-confessed 'utter' animal lover. So enjoy Faye's blogs here...

Recent Articles by Faye Shippam :

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