This week we have seen some incredible riots in London. Interestingly, some of these riots were actually predicted by some of the youths a few weeks back, at the end of the video one of the youths mentions that there will be riots. David Cameron had some choice points about the use of social media, Ars Technica has a good discussion about the different sides of social media. However, it is mostly discussing it in terms of causing the riots as well as leading to the clean up of the cit of London.
I find the reaction that we’re seeing on the internet to the usage of Black Berry Messenger and Twitter interesting. These are the same forces that while in affect in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, social media were forces to be praised. However, now that they are being used in England instead they are being vilified. Also, we are seeing pressure from the government to use social media to arrest the members of these gangs.
First, I think what these groups did was horrible. If I was able to I’d try to help the victims of these crimes. However, we need to be aware of the precedence we are setting in the response to this. While there are some differences in the actions, there was looting in Egypt and Tunisia, there are also differences in the situation. The major difference comes from the leaders being elected compared to being despots.
Based on the interviews the Guardian conducted we can see that the youths are unemployed and marginalized. This is similar to what was going on within Tunisia and Egypt. High unemployment and lack things for the kids to do. It’s something of a structural issues. Which Cameron acknowledged yesterday in a speech. So some of the reasons are similar between the rioters in London and with the Arab spring.
However, since it is England asking for data from Twitter and BlackBerry, they are much more will to cooperate with the police. I’m not entirely sure this would have happened in any of the countries involved in the Arab Spring. Leverage over Twitter during the Arab Spring could have killed it. Do we pick and choose which riots we support? I think it’s clear that we do.
We just need to be aware of the precedence we are setting and that all countries around the world are going to emulate the response of the US and England in this riot. There’s no reason why China, Iran, North Korea, or any other country shouldn’t expect Twitter to comply with them if Twitter complies with England.
The actions that our governments take in this case could have long term implications in regards to internet freedom. It also will indicate if there are two different classes of countries when it comes to the allowable types of internet freedom.
I don’t condone what happened, but we need to really understand the repercussions of the actions in wake of these riots.