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Social Media Marketing

Mark Warburton (UK) - Social Media and Civil Unrest Part 2

This four-part series on IT skills will be published today and the 16 of September. Part 2 looks at the reaction to Blackberry youth culture.

The ‘Shadow' Network

BlackBerries have been produced by Research in Motion (RIM) since 1999. Ironically, they were originally associated with high powered office executives who needed to access their emails on the move. With the focus of blame on social media turning to BlackBerry - after Facebook and Twitter were again seen as acceptable due to their relative transparency and ability to organize people positively - a new, more subtle variation of the ‘feral youth' narrative becomes apparent: urban youth and its subcultures as a technologically savvy clan. This narrative is coupled with the usual fear (due to a lack of knowledge) of an older generation who assume that if a young person isn't transparently good, then he/she is hiding something dark and sinister.

On top of this, the media circus appears to interchange these fictional narratives arbitrarily; describing youth as ‘armed with BlackBerries' - evoking the idea of covert, organized militants - while also throwing in the standard primal/feral rabble of aimless ‘vermin'.
The insistence that the youth of today operate as a network under the radar, innately criminal, perpetuates a culture of fear. BlackBerry as a medium complements these normative fictions as it operates:

1) Privately - (read as insidious)
2) Creates socially organic networks - (read as homogenous - with an explained common cause).
3) Cheap to operate - (read as class specific)

As convincing a target as BlackBerry is, it still only takes one person to defect i.e. post a riot meeting point text to the ‘outside' of the network for police to find out. The rioters were not carefully sending single texts to each of their most loyal friends, making sure word would not get out. This would not be an effective method. Instead, contact lists were spammed. The media selectively admitted as much. For instance, the Daily Telegraph stated that police were prepared for trouble in Birmingham after a campaign on Facebook, BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter warned of violence and encouraged others to get involved. Call for shutting down BlackBerry during rioting then, on the surface, appear unjustified.

Shortly after the riots, all manner of psychological explanations outlined social media's influence on the spread of the riots. It was argued that social media provided validation for young people. This is a fairly generalising statement that doesn't convincingly explain why people were susceptible to rioting in the first place. The argument doesn't hold in contrary incidents either. During the unrest across the Middle East, demonstrators revolting in Tunisia trigger the same kind of response in Egypt with the help of social media.

It seems that the protesters felt validated in Tahrir Square in Egypt as they saw themselves as part of a larger movement, or at least not alone in their desire to revolt. But does this reduce the desire to revolt to social media? No. Is it an attributing factor to the viral nature of pre-existing discontent? Certainly. The danger of explaining away (selective) psychological factors, means that the desire for disruption - in the face of what people perceive to be unfair - is not diluted and trivialized.

part 1: Social Media as a Scapegoat?

Next Friday: parts 3 & 4 ('The Hackers Response' and 'Aftermath')

By Mark Warburton, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect

 

 

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