Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger were cited yesterday as helping rioters in London to organise in a much more agile way than police were able to deal with. But the the social sites have since demonstrated the good they can bring to a community when disaster strikes.
Frontline was on Twitter on Monday night tracing the path of the looters. At one point, someone tweeted that a group of youths were on a bus, and had announced that their next stop would be Muswell Hill. Sure enough, 45 minutes later the youths showed up in the area to wreak havoc.
The real-time power of Twitter has been a force for good in many situations, from inspiring anti-government protests in Iran, to being the first to report the safe landing of a stricken plane on the Hudson River.
It would be foolish for the police to ignore the benefits of Twitter, especially when their resources are heavily overstretched and better monitoring of the site could see officers allocated to trouble hotspots more quickly.
But perhaps more importantly, while the looters are focused on destroying communities, many citizens are using sites like Twitter and Facebook to rebuild them.
A Facebook group called Supporting the Met Police against the London rioters has been set up by Sean Boscott to show support for the police, and has now gathered nearly 550,000 members. Similar groups include Reclaim London, United Against the London Riots and Croydon Clean Up Crew.
Meanwhile a group on Twitter with over 70,000 followers is driving the clean-up operations today, letting people know where to head if they want to help.
"Shame on You," said the group in a tweet. "Our communities are standing united."
Even businesses have shown their support on Twitter for the clean-up. For example, the Giraffe restaurant chain offered free coffee to those helping this morning.
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