The London riots erupted in 2011 between August 6 and 10, after the protests in Tottenham that followed the death of Mark Duggan. Duggan was a local man shot dead by police sparking protest from the community,
“About 300 people gathered outside the police station on the High Road after demonstrators demanded ‘justice’”
The protests quickly escalated into riots which led to shops being looted and arson attacks. The following days saw ‘copycat violence’ take place in other parts of London, spreading to other major cities. Afterwards several arrests were made, e.g.
“About 3,100 people so far have been arrested, of whom over 1,100 have been through the courts for offences ranging from burglary and arson, to violence and disorder”
Citizen journalism played a crucial role as for many; the riots began with Twitter messages shortly before 9pm on 6 August. Many rioters failed to cover their face and posted pictures of themselves with stolen goods online. Despite London’s use of CCTV cameras throughout the city the police ended up using social networking site Flickr to find those responsible. This is evidence that citizen footage was used more than previous methods of gathering information, in this case on a crime, as stated
“beyond the lenses of CCTV however, citizens are snapping looters in action, without the identity-hiding garb. Many of the alleged perpetrators are easily identifiable — if you happen to know who they are”
Social media was relied on further with Facebook pages created to identify looters involved and news organisations deployed live maps confirming areas where there had been verified lootings to navigate the dangerous and crowded areas,
“With 500 members and growing, the ‘Lets catch the London 201 rioters and looters’ Facebook community page features a growing collection of both photos and videos”
Blackberry messenger was used to help organise the rioters however some experts, such as Megan Boler, say it does not matter what method of communication was used as due to the digital age the technology and the use of it has taken over to an extent,
“It’s ubiquitous technology, It’s everywhere”
The police were also using it to track down rioters. BBM gave rioters the ability to contact individuals or broadcast messages to entire contact lists instantly, revealing where riots were currently taking place and keeping note of the police’s activity. A secure server for these messages made it difficult for the police to track them. This is evidence that with the rise of the digital age, the citizen journalists created and the use of technology, it is more an aid for those raised within it than the older generations. Twitter also played a for citizens and journalists reporting and following live updates on the riots and received a lot of criticism for its part, e.g.
“The Daily Mail was particularly quick to blame Twitter for helping to orchestrate the rioting and for spreading triumphal images from the rioters themselves. One picture of a burning police car was retweeted over 100 times and the Mail reported that the ‘troublemakers’ on Twitter were encouraging ‘scores more people into the area’”
The police were a firm believer in Twitter being used for ‘evil’ as much as BBM was, e.g.
“in an age of social media in which disgruntled youth are frequently more skilled with smart phones than are the adults who police them, London authorities believe handheld technologies may have helped those trying to instigate violence to spread their message”
Twitter became the communication method of choice and citizens were quick to defend it against the criticisms of helping crime, stating it was the people behind the accounts,
“Speed Communications managing director, Stephen Waddington, defended Twitter’s role: ‘Twitter is being used to exchange messages in the way that previous generations used technology such as phone, email and SMS. To claim that Twitter had a role in the Tottenham riots is as credible as placing the blame at the hands of mobile phone handset manufacturers or mobile operators.’”
Twitter has become an effective form of communication with users able to retweet and hashtag, easing the effort of spreading the word. Also being thought it was used for good when spreading messages, retweeting news rather than user’s original content, e.g.
“it may be premature to suggest, as some British tabloids have, that the service somehow fuelled the chaos. Sure, users retweeted an image of a burning police car 100 times during the riot, but it hardly follows automatically that this image inspired anyone to grab a crowbar and start smashing the windows of electronics stores”
Also we cannot forget the mobile phone. Police requested information from mobile phone operators to aid their capture of criminals involved, asking for
“data about the locations calls were made from, the owners of phones, and lists of calls made to and from a particular handset”
This event is a clear message there’s a developing generation divide for citizen journalism, with the younger, ‘digital’ generation wielding this new communication method as well as being quick to defend it, and the older generation quick to criticise it.
In 2010 in the UK, thousands of hours of mobile phone footage was uploaded onto YouTube and social media networks of the student protests over increased tuition fees for university students. In November 2010 there was a series of demonstrations against planned spending cuts to further education and an increase in the cap on tuition fees. Students felt the cuts were excessive and broke campaign promises made by politicians. However the protests turned violent as
“The scale of the London protest defied expectations, with an estimated 50,000 turning out to vent their anger at government plans to raise tuition fees while cutting the state grant for university teaching”
The rise of citizen journalism through social media came through this event and was crucial when used in the organisation of the protest, e.g.
“Using Facebook and Twitter to organize protest marches and occupations of university buildings, and to debate the issues, allowed for much more fluid and rapid organization to emerge than would be possible going through “official” channels. It also meant that the movement could reach out beyond the university student body to include school pupils, parents, university staff and the wider public”
There became a constant information flow on the protest, kept up to the minute by protesters using Twitter on their phones to report where they were and what was happening. As the police attempted to contain certain locations, word spread to the protesters to avoid these problems using this information. Although police had access to these media channels they could not act quickly enough, e.g.
“While police and authorities also had access to the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Google maps created by protesters, the speed with which protesters were able to manoeuvre and the distributed nature of participation meant that authorities could not effectively respond to protests via these channels”
This gives evidence that the younger generation were more skilled at using forms of citizen journalism as they grew up in the ‘digital age’.
These protests were an example of how citizen journalism adds to a subject already reported on by the main stream media, e.g.
“While the protests received extensive news coverage on TV, online and in newspapers, digital media enabled students to directly reach a much wider public, providing their own account of events and articulating the issues in their own words”
and getting these messages to the public became an important part of the protester’s cause. Mainstream reporting only focused on the violence of students during the protests but the forms of citizen journalism that came to light showed events that were ignored by these media organisations such as the Jody McIntyre incident, a student who was pulled out of his wheelchair by police. This was photographed by protesters and information was circulated throughout social media before being picked up by the BBC, leading to a controversial TV interview. It is stated that
“this kind of “citizen journalism” can have an impact on the mainstream news agenda, but more importantly it also allowed the protesters’ to communicate their own, broader agenda to the wider public”
The way social media was used has revolutionised the way digital media affects democracy and
“allowed more genuine democratic participation than would be possible through the more formalized avenues of representative elective government or bureaucratic trade unions”
This is all evidence that citizen journalism has become a way for people to make their voices heard against traditional forms of political participation and is leading to it being an option for everyone, e.g.
“the movement lives on in both physical and virtual networks, blog discussions, email lists, Twitter feeds and Facebook groups open to participation from all, and determined to carry on making their voices heard until politicians listen”