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Social Media Marketing

Mark Warburton (UK) - Social Media and Civil Unrest Part 3

Last week I looked at the supposed role social media played in the riots. I concluded that although social media factored in organizing some activity, it was not a significant underlying factor for the civil unrest; especially as the police could use it to counter riots and single out rioters in the aftermath. I now continue this series by looking at the politically motivated responses of hacker groups and conclude with my own opinion on the reaction to the riots.

Hackers and Rioters

It is obvious what side of the political spectrum hacker collectives stand on. Anonymous, one of the most prominent hacker groups in the public eye, published a short yet scathing response on the riots, ‘Op Britain':

"Your politicians and the media do their best to avoid seeing that reality. They would rather manipulate public anger in order to cloud judgment and create division. They will use these riots as an excuse to withdraw civic freedoms, increase draconian police powers, and discourage legitimate protest."

The document - for all its rhetorical drama -accurately predicts the overblown reactions to the riots. The hysterical sound bites of government's resistance to rebellion, witnessed in standard media, culminated in the prime minister's call for TV court entertainment becoming a reality - which will provide the public with an outlet (fetish) for finger-pointing via ‘entertainment'. This bizarre Orwellian decision parallels the degree to which social media was involved in the surveillance and arrests of rioters.

Condemnation of the ‘Op Britain' letter focuses on its call for further rebellion on October 15th 2011. Whether the demonstrations envisaged are organized peacefully means little to the establishment. Critics worry that if the likes of unions, anti-cuts groups, community organizations, students and activists turn up to an organized event, it might carry more political weight than the disaffected youth who vented their anger without a constructive program.

Another hacking group, calling itself TeaMp0isoN, took credit for a cyber-attack when public discussion turned to a universal ‘off switch' for the BlackBerry network during civil unrest. TeaMp0isoN posted a statement on the Research in Motion (RIM) blog (the company responsible for BlackBerry) before RIM removed it, saying:

"Dear Rim; You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a BlackBerry will get charged for no reason at all,"

The statement went on to threaten - no doubt a knowingly ironic gesture - to make public the database of RIM employees' personal information. It is clear that hacker collective's chief intentions are to disrupt perceived attacks on the public's freedoms, and to rally them into political action.

As neither hackers nor rioters have shown respect for property (whether intellectual or physical), there have been attempts to group them into the same camp by suggesting that their use of technological networking tactics is the root and fuel of their respective intellectual/feral anger. In ignoring the differences between the rioters and hackers (socio-economic backgrounds, education etc.), the dominant narrative of a homogenous mass of cultureless, decadent youths was reasserted - further avoiding an explanation of why similar political discontentment is expressed by contrasting groups.

Unsuccessful attempts by commentators to separate the political connotations of (online) networked solidarity from the rioters' ‘lack' of political legitimacy highlights a reactionary ignorance. What sense does it make (other than selective fear mongering) to portray the rioters as both orderly and chaotic? Simply put, the rioters were condemned for their lack of a reasoned, political program and the technologically social nature of their solidarity. Alternatively, to downplay the collective (political) organizing the BlackBerry network had partially allowed - and social media in general - the idea of a technological evil that was not politically chosen, but just is, became another flimsy argument for the riots.


In the final part of this series I will conclude with some of my own insights into the riots and social media.

By Mark Warburton, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect

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