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Technology Blamed For Helping UK Rioters 682

Hugh Pickens writes "The WSJ reports that following three nights of rioting and looting in London, Blackberry's messaging network and social networking sites are being blamed by police, politicians and media organizations for helping rioters in London spread word about the next hot spot . It's an 'encrypted, very secure, safe, fast, cheap, free, easy way for disaffected urban youth to spread messages for the next targets,' says Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch Europe and digital advisor to the Mayor of London. But Ian Maude, an analyst at Enders Analysis, said it's unfair to lay the blame on technology. 'Certainly, it's a lot easier for people to communicate with each other in real time via some of these services but that's a fact of life. They're not good or evil in themselves, its the purposes for which people use them.' The Metropolitan Police, known as Scotland Yard, say they are monitoring social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM), the maker of Blackberry smartphones, says it has 'engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.'" An anonymous reader points out that the rioters aren't the only ones using technology. London police have begun posting pictures on Flikr of people they'd like to interview following the riots over the last few days.
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Technology Blamed For Helping UK Rioters

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  • I call bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:00AM (#37032826)

    Blaming technology for the rioting is bullshit. You have to have people willing to riot and loot in the first place, this just helps them group together....

    But more than that, the real bullshit is that in any group that size, there's no way the communication is "secure", in fact it MUST be broadcast (by tweet or whatever) where anyone could see it. Yes that lets rioters group but it also SHOULD give police a heads-up where to be. If technology is to blame for the riots then the police are almost as much to blame for allowed the riots to occur when the targets are handed to them on a digital platter beforehand.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by need4mospd ( 1146215 )
      In other news, spoons blamed for Oprah's most recent weight gain.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:58AM (#37033548)

      Blaming technology for the rioting is bullshit.

      You sound like the gun nuts. Of course technology is to blame, and only a crazy person would be opposed to "reasonable" controls on mobile devices, such as registration. We're not talking about banning mobile devices, just common-sense solutions like police monitoring of messages and maybe some small waiting period on messages to keep this sort of thing from happening.

      At least RIMM seems reasonable, and has "engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can." Why can't you be like them?

      Mobile computing is a privilege, not a right.

      • Police monitoring private messages is common sense?

        So it's true, if it's done long enough it becomes ingrained enough for people to accept it. Who would have thought it works so quickly?

    • Re:I call bullshit (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Xest ( 935314 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:25PM (#37033886)

      Well I wouldn't worry, the headline is sensationalist. Whilst many places have said technology was involved most media outlets have been quite measured in talking about it. The BBC ran an article today basically absolving it of blame saying that the likes of The Daily Mail misquoted Twitter users (quite gross misquotes too- blatant, horrendous level of misquoting).

      The point has been made by most measured outlets that technology has actually better facilitated voluntary cleanup operations than the riots themselves. It's only the verging on far right wing fringe - the fringe that inherently must be irrational to have the hypocritical viewpoints it does - that support the "technology is bad" idea like The Daily Mail etc.

      I don't think there's much popular support for blaming technology nowadays- a recent report said over 33% of adults have smart phones now in the UK, which inevitably means some of those are the older generation. I think even the older "get off my lawn" generation are beginning to realise the benefits of new technology to some extent, so the argument isn't even really popular amongst large swathes of even The Daily Mail's ignorant readerbase now

      It's like when music was blamed for violence/drug use, then movies for violence, I think we're finally reaching the point where people are beginning to realise that, well, that ideology is fucking stupid when applied to technology in general too and the only thing to blame for violence, is people.

      I'd argue the technology is to blame for x mentality is a lost battle already. I just wish it'd breathe it's last dying breath that little bit quicker, but it's almost there.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:00AM (#37032834)
    A few months ago the western world wailed loudly when some arab countries terminated internet and mobile phone connections because it was thought to be assisting their local rioters. Here we have a supposedly democratic country where, at the first sign of trouble, government officials are suggesting exactly the same thing.
    • by gibletparade ( 1033096 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:10AM (#37032940)
      But these people are not using tech to organise a campaign for democracy. They are living in a democracy, using tech to organise theft and destruction of that democracy.

      It isn't Aung San Suu Kyi we're dealing with here. It's these clueless bitches: []

      Who is suggesting terminating connections? I'm happy with tapping.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:22AM (#37033094)

      All I know is that it's good when kids use it to fight the power in countries whose governments we don't like. But it's bad when kids use it to fight the power in countries whose governments we do like. And it's downright fucking criminal if any thug punks *dare* to do it in *OUR* country!!!

      Kind of reminds me of the old Reagan days--when labor unions were awful in the U.S., but wonderful in Poland.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:02PM (#37033608) Homepage Journal

        Interesting but how is smashing windows and grabbing TV sets, burning down a bank after you fail to get the money out of ATMs, and burning peoples cars fighting the power and not just plain looting?
        Are these kids fighting for the right to vote? I guess the funniest or saddest thing I saw was on the BBC this young woman that was wearing somewhat expensive cloths was standing in while people where looting a store and telling the reporter it was about "respect". She said, "If you want us to respect you than you must respect us first.".
        This is a looting spree. Even the shooting looks like the person shot had a gun. At first they said it was just a replica but if and adult pulls what looks like a gun on an officer and points it at them do you wait to see if a bullet comes out of it? Now the BBC says it was a real gun. I don't know but could this be a case of the Police where right and people are jumping to conclusions and then bands of criminals are exploiting the situation?
        Really you need to get a clue. This is criminal violence going down in a democracy it is not a peaceful protest. Also notice that the police are not shooting people on site and are trying to decrease the violence with a minimum of force. It is a shame that people can not see the difference.

        • Not all protests are peaceful. The triggering incident in this case was the shooting of an unarmed man, and the beating of a teenage girl by the police. These protestors want the police and the government to respect them, and they are showing that by disrespecting the laws they have been forced to live under.

          From a sociological perspective, any group of people who are disadvantaged enough will eventually revolt. In that light there is no difference between the London riots and the Egyptian revolution. T

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Have you been following the London riots at all? I suggest looking at some of the links marked #londonriots on Twitter. You don't need an account. These kids are not fighting the power. They are smashing up and looting locally owned stores in their community and setting fire to buildings with people asleep upstairs in them and then actively preventing fire fighters from putting out the fires.
        I'm not sure what that has to do with labor union demos?

    • From reading the article (which I head to search for through Google because it was subscriber locked), no one is suggesting terminating phone or internet connections. Do you have other sources of information?

      The most likely explanation is that the police can't handle these riots, they don't have a large enough force to stop them from happening. So they are trying to stop people at the source, keep them from getting organized. Which actually they can't do either, but they are hoping that by making a big no
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 )

      A few months ago the western world wailed loudly when some arab countries terminated internet and mobile phone connections because it was thought to be assisting their local rioters.

      No the western world wailed because they were shutting down networks to suppress freedom of speech. Much of the Arab spring started out as peaceful protests demanding democratic reform. The governments responded with massive censorship which included shutting down social networks. Most of this censorship was in place well before the violence started.

      What is happening in London has nothing to do with free speech or political/social reform. It's just mass vandalism.

      It's the difference between shouting

  • But Ian Maude, an analyst at Enders Analysis, said it's unfair to lay the blame on technology. 'Certainly, it's a lot easier for people to communicate with each other in real time via some of these services but that's a fact of life. They're not good or evil in themselves, its the purposes for which people use them.'

    How dare he bring logic and reason into the argument! Who does this guy think he is?!?

  • by EasyTarget ( 43516 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:02AM (#37032852) Journal

    20 years ago the same area erupted in rioting.. Those rioters used social networking rather than social media, they knocked on doors, chatted in groups, and then went off to find trouble. None of them had mobiles then.. didn't stop the riots. Political action and talking did that.

  • "Disaffected urban youth" in England are toting around Blackberries? Thatâ(TM)s not very hip and edgy.

    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      "Disaffected urban youth" in England are toting around Blackberries? Thatâ(TM)s not very hip and edgy.

      It is if you're youth here. Smartphone brand choice [] (released a few days ago). 37% of smartphone-owning 13-15 and 37% of 16-24s have a BlackBerry.

      (My theory is they're either cast-offs from mum/dad, probably from business, or stolen. BlackBerry Messenger is popular, although I don't understand why, when things like MSN were popular before and work on all phones.)

  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:03AM (#37032868)
    Guns blamed for helping gunmen shoot people.
    Bombs blamed for helping suicide bomber blow up.
    Planes blamed for helping people crash planes.
    Fire blamed for helping people start fires.
    Phones blamed for helping people coordinate bad things.
    Internet blamed for child pornography proliferation.

    How about this?
    Sensationalist media blamed for making everything a scandal or a controversy!

    People wanting to ignore and pass off responsibility just fire the blame cannon everywhere. Why are they rioting? Why is there so much civil unrest in England? Are the English that repressed that this is a cry-out for help? Or is this all being blown out of proportion, and the riots are really just a couple of small groups causing trouble. Personally, I think the PoliceState in that country has spiraled out of control, and now there is a growing underground movement with there backs to the wall, so we are seeing the rebellion swell as more and more dissenters act out the only way they personally feel they can. How about looking at the fundamental causes for societal unrest, lets analyze the sociology of the The Land of the Panopticon Complex.
  • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:04AM (#37032874) Homepage

    With a weakened social safety net, rampant unemployment, eastern-european migrants taking over the few remaining jobs and the super-rich from abroad (mostly the middle east) causing housing prices to skyrocket...

    It also has nothing to do with the looting of the public done by the banksters and their enablers, the politicians.

    Finally, the Met police are trusted and can't be blamed for the vandals and looter's complete despise for the actions of the law enforcement... it's not the fault of the police that they are unaccountable.

    • it's not the fault of the police that they are unaccountable.

      That made me laugh. It's like "The police are not accountable for their unaccountability."

    • by shugah ( 881805 )
      Or maybe it's just a bunch of young people who need very little impetus to smash shit up?
      • by Piata ( 927858 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:36AM (#37033276)

        You don't riot for 3 days unless there's fuel for that spark to burn. Saying it's those damn young'ns is disingenuous.

        Not long ago they were rioting over changes to education. What's the difference between people that just want to "smash shit up" and people being tired of their government, the rich getting richer and the lack of accountability of civil servants (including police)?

        • by shugah ( 881805 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:56AM (#37033520)
          I don't live in the UK, so I obviously don't have my finger on the pulse of London. I'm sure SOME of the people are upset over actions of the police and real or perceived inequalities and the police shooting of a young man in a poorer neighbourhood. But there is undoubtedly a number of people for whom this is just an opportunity to behave badly.

          As someone who has observed pointless, causeless, riots, or attempts to get riots started at so many large public gatherings and events over the last decade, from the Seattle WTO meetings, the Toronto G8 summit, the Genoa G8 Summit, the Vancouver Stanley Cup finals, a failed attempt at the Vancouver Olympics, football hooliganism across Europe, etc. in most of these cases, there was really no social cause, just an opportunity to behave badly and anonymously in a crowd. Most of the participants, were simply partying violently and could not even articulate what social injustice they were upset about.

          No one loves their government, there is always unrest, and always the "disaffected" and "disenfranchised". Sometimes there is a cause, but it has to be recognized that every large public gathering provides an opportunity for the darker side of human "crowd mentality" to come out.
    • eastern-european migrants taking over the few remaining jobs.

      I have to argue with that point, with an official unemployment rate of 7.7% [], it's not like the Thatcher era. Unemployment rates are relatively low, so you can't argue that unemployment is a factor here without ignoring the facts.

    • People like to riot if they can get away with it. Sports riots have happened for decades. Don't blame the economy for thugs.

      The way to stop that sort of "recreational riot" is overwhelming force ruthlessly applied. Destroy the enemy. They deserve the sort of beatdown they'll remember in the future.

  • by Grumbleduke ( 789126 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:06AM (#37032890) Journal

    Today has been a rather different story - Twitter has been used to organise a community-driven clean-up process, with large numbers of people gathering in the damaged areas of London to help fix things and tidy up. #riotcleanup [] is still trending worldwide, and has been for most of the day, #riotwombles [] (a wonderful tag) has been used for organising people on the streets, and @riotcleanup [] has picked up over 70,000 followers today. There's also a sort of website [] running now.

    Social media, the Internet and technology in general are just tools - it's how people use them that matters; and today we've definitely seen them being used for good.

    • Fortunately, this is being reported in the media as well. It's slowly worked its way up the BBC News [] front page today. The person who started is is allegedly Sam Duckworth aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.
  • It's totally not your ineptitude at being police, or the social wrongs that are driving people to riot, it's clearly their ability to communicate with each other which is to blame! Also, people don't kill people, bullets do, and car accidents are always 100% the vehicle's fault.

  • How long before "democratic countries" start talking about phones like they talk about guns? Will we have to listen to chants like, "Phones don't kill people. People kill people." and "Phones don't piss people off enough to kill people. People piss off people enough to kill people."

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:11AM (#37032954)

    Give law-abiding Britains their gun rights back and let them use them in public when attacked by people who clearly intend to render substantial harm to life, limb or property.

    Liberals were predicting that the "make my day" self-defense statutes Florida and Georgia have would result in a bloodbath because recipients of violence could not only stand their ground (by abolishing the "duty to retreat") but also lowered the threshold for using a weapon in self-defense.

    Instead, a lot of criminals suddenly realized it would be open season on them.

    Of course, you're well within your right to lecture these "redneck states" on how uncivilized their behavior is--even as your city is struggling with outright barbarism in its midst.

    • Yes, the predicted "bloodbath" argument has NEVER EVER held true and yet people still decry that as a reason for banning firearms.

      I think international travel should also be banned because the Earth is flat and we are likely to fall off of it. I realize that historical evidence to the contrary exists, but I'm going to keep believing what I believe because it's right... right?

    • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:22AM (#37033102)

      Cool, so the chavs will shoot back. Problem solved!

  • Technology "blamed"? (Score:5, Informative)

    by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:13AM (#37032970) Journal

    I've followed the BBC feed on the riots, and I can't say I've heard anyone, including the police, "blame" the technology, as much as simply acknowledging that the rioters use it to organize. That's it. Nobody is screaming "remove technology from the premises".

    • Check the comments from the various MPs. They'll discuss the impact of technology on the riots and what can be done about it in their next sessions.

  • How did they miss the chance?

  • How about blaming themselves for their ham-fisted police action for sparking the riots in the first place?

    No? Funny that...

  • These smart people are simply getting out of hand. We need dumb people because they are easier to manage.

  • by kurt555gs ( 309278 ) <kurt555gs AT ovi DOT com> on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:22AM (#37033096) Homepage

    We are having these problems in Illinois and Wisconsin as well. Illinois has no concealed carry law, and Wisconsin's doesnt take effect until Nov 1.

    We are not seeing destructive flash mobs in Houston. It's won't happen there because both the organizers and participants know that lots of Texans walk around armed all the time. So, the concealed carry law it's self PREVENTS violence because these hooligans don't want to try something that will lead to them being shot dead.

    So, the UK can watch and spy, and listen all they want and it will have no effect on what is happening.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <> on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:15PM (#37033778) Homepage Journal

      Specious Bullshit.

      Texas has the highest number of cattle per ranch; clearly that why you don't see destructive flash mobs.
      Hey, Texas has a nigher suicide rate then Wisconsin, clearly that's because lots of Texans walk around armed all the time.
      Stop pushing your ideological statements and specious reasoning and use facts.

      The highest gun death is in the states with the highest gun ownership.

      Texas has a lower concealed weapon owner ship then Michigan. Does Michigan have few crimes then Texas? How about Florida?
      Do any of these states:

      Percent of Adults with a License to Carry in each Shall Issue State

      7.45% South Dakota
      6.79% Indiana
      6.76% Pennsylvania
      5.23% Connecticut
      5.12% Washington
      4.34% Idaho
      4.10% Utah
      3.86% Oregon
      3.45% Tennessee
      3.15% Alabama
      2.72% Florida
      2.71% Kentucky
      2.67% Wyoming
      2.41% Maine
      2.18% Arkansas
      2.11% Virginia
      1.94% West Virginia
      1.76% Arizona
      1.75% Oklahoma
      1.70% Montana
      1.70% Michigan
      1.62% Texas

      Do you even realize that per capita, there are 32 other states that has more gun ownership then Texas?
      More data:
      States with the Five HIGHEST Per Capita Gun Death Rates

      Louisiana--Rank: 1; Household Gun Ownership: 45.6 percent; Gun Death Rate: 19.58 per 100,000.
      Alabama--Rank: 2; Household Gun Ownership: 57.2 percent; Gun Death Rate: 16.99 per 100,000.
      Alaska--Rank: 3 (tie); Household Gun Ownership: 60.6 percent; Gun Death Rate: 16.38 per 100,000.
      Mississippi--Rank: 3 (tie); Household Gun Ownership: 54.3 percent; Gun Death Rate: 16.38 per 100,000.
      Nevada--Rank: 5; Household Gun Ownership: 31.5 percent; Gun Death Rate: 16.25 per 100,000.

      States with the Five LOWEST Per Capita Gun Death Rates
      Hawaii--Rank: 50; Household Gun Ownership: 9.7 percent; Gun Death Rate: 2.58 per 100,000.
      Massachusetts--Rank: 49; Household Gun Ownership: 12.8 percent; Gun Death Rate: 3.28 per 100,000.
      Rhode Island--Rank: 48; Household Gun Ownership: 13.3 percent; Gun Death Rate: 4.43 per 100,000.
      Connecticut--Rank: 47; Household Gun Ownership: 16.2 percent; Gun Death Rate: 4.95 per 100,000.
      New York--Rank: 46; Household Gun Ownership: 18.1 percent; Gun Death Rate: 5.20 per 100,000.


  • by Krneki ( 1192201 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:26AM (#37033164)
    With all the surveillance cameras in London one would thought that is has to be the most secure city in the world.

    Oh the irony.
  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:42AM (#37033330)

    Living in London, and seeing the chaos first hand, I find the millions of ignorant teenage American basement dwellers posting here, with their stupid, teenage libertarian logic highly offensive. Britain is a different country, with different traditions, and different laws to the US.

    IF these gangs of hoodlums were all packing .45s, then hundreds of innocent people would likely be dead.
    There is NO government conspiracy to start riots as a pretext to limit our civil liberties
    CCTV does work -- ask all the homie-g gangbangers being busted right now, where the evidence that put them behind bars came from

    Grow up, and kindly refrain from commenting on things you obviously know nothing about. Ignoramuses.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <> on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:53AM (#37033480) Homepage Journal

      "IF these gangs of hoodlums were all packing .45s, then hundreds of innocent people would likely be dead."

      Evidence suggest not.

      Who cares if CCTV works? The fact is it is a violation on basic freedoms. Treat your populations like they are all criminals, and eventually you moved from the police being a member of the society helping itself, to the police becoming outside of society and creating an US v Them attitude. History is filled withe examples.

      I am curious: are the CCTV recording available to everyone?

      And no , I don't think the riots ar a result of direct control from the government; however the government has clearly created a situation where a number of youths feel disenfranchised. There are only 2 things that happens when you hve a large enough sect of disenfranchises youths. You send them to war, or the government changes.

      And yes, the libertarian drivel spouted on /. is quite annoying.

    • Living in London, and seeing the chaos first hand, I find the millions of ignorant teenage American basement dwellers posting here, with their stupid, teenage libertarian logic highly offensive. Britain is a different country, with different traditions, and different laws to the US.

      Are you sure you live in Britain? Because that refrain is something we usually here coming from the autocrats in China.

  • by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:44AM (#37033358) Homepage Journal

    Tell me a time when technology in some form has NOT helped Rioters....

  • by data2 ( 1382587 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:47AM (#37033386)

    When a young man was asked by a reporter, if he thought rioting was the correct way to express disconsent, he answered with

    "Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
    The TV reporter from Britain's ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you." []

  • by jools33 ( 252092 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @11:52AM (#37033472)

    BBC news ran a story last night that basically blamed Twitter and Blackberry. When I logged onto Twitter - I would say approximately 95% of the posts that were rioting related were outright condemning the riots - and I could see no signs at all of this "organisation" that the BBC article claimed. It seems to me that journalists are just blaming the technology with no real evidence to back up these claims - apart from the fact that many of the rioters are using mobile phones.

  • by DaveGod ( 703167 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @07:33PM (#37038592)

    This is completely untrue. I'm from UK, on holiday from work at the moment and following the news all day on numerous formats.

    It is true that technology, particularly social networks and Blackberry messenger are being cited as a reason why pockets are able to spring up and move around quickly (hence being difficult for the police to respond to). It is an explanation - an absolutely valid explanation - but an explanation for a phenomenon is quite different from assigning it blame.

    Frankly local MPs and suchlike have come across as surprisingly knowledgeable. I got a schooling on Blackberries from a 50-something female MP from a fairly posh London borough this morning. I'd wager she knew more about these things and why they're popular amongst London youths than RIM's marketing department, she might be deserving of a commission on my next phone.

    I find it rather odd that /. posts a link to a tiny article (apologies if my adblock etc is cutting things out) on an American newspaper's site when there is a detailed discussion [] on the London-based BBC. I'll note the BBC carefully states "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." Again, having "a role to play" is quite different to being culpable or responsible, my impression is the BBC is responding to those misunderstanding the frequent references.

    Oh yeah and technology is also being mentioned with the likes of "Twitter and Facebook users plan clean-up []" (again, not social media being credited but noted as a tool used for people worthy of praise).

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?