Social media and social unrest

Social media appears to be playing a significant role in the riots happening in London and in some UK cities. Many people have pointed to mobile phone manufacturer Blackberry and its free instant messenger service (BBM) - as well as the websites Twitter and Facebook, which are used by millions - for making it easier for those involved in the disturbances to organise the criminal activity.

The Daily Mail reported that Mike Butcher, a technology journalist and advisor to London Mayor Boris Johnson, has called for BBM to be disabled in an attempt to make it harder for young people to meet up to cause more disturbance.

Mr Butcher described BBM as a secure way for disaffected urban youths to spread details of their next target."It's like text messaging with steroids - you can send messages to hundreds of people and once it's gone from your phone it cannot be traced back to you," he added.

Chartered Psychologist Professor Mark Griffiths, an expert in cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, said: "It's no surprise that social media are being used in ways that it wasn't originally designed for. The fact that Twitter and other social networking media have been used for organising riots and looting is just another case of criminals using all the social media tools at their disposal. 

"Given the speed and immediacy that outlets like Twitter can get messages out to the masses, there's really no surprise that those who want to cause criminal disturbance will do it.I'm sure the police are well aware of the social media avenues being used and they can at least gain valuable intelligence if they know what they are looking for. 

"However, we all need to remember that the internet should not be blamed for such criminal action. The internet is morally neutral and a minority of people will always use technology in ways that society deems as criminal and/or immoral."