Mark Duggan, 29 years old, was shot by a Metropolitan police firearms officer on the 4th of August 2011. A peaceful protest was arranged in the Tottenham area but within days riots had broken out across England starting in London and spreading to other areas including Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham.
Between the 6th and 10th of August there were acts of criminal damage, looting, arson and five people were left dead in three incidents. In the following days there was public outcry and debates about the causes of the riots started immediately. These debates varied from dismissing those involved as criminals to constructive debate about class, race relations, government cuts, unemployment, the break down of the family unit and the media itself.
The media arguably played a huge role in the riots; both in the spread of violence and in public opinion after. Many newspapers have reported that Blackberry Messenger was the main way rioters kept in contact and therefore evaded the police. Other sites such as twitter and facebook were also blamed as being used to incite others to join in. The police were unable to co-ordinate an effective response as due to social media it was easy for those involved to evade capture. London became a fast-moving battle ground.
Another debate is that the media is to blame in reporting on, and even sometimes glorifying, gang culture. Interestingly, one journalist Phil Hall defends the media by claiming, “Individuals act of their own accord”, yet much of the media is happy to blame social media as a catalyst. In fact, in other cases of violence, traditional media has also been happy to blame video games and movies. The arrest and charging of Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for inciting violence through social media shows us what the government and courts really think of the majority of the population; that we are passive dummies who cannot think for ourselves. That one persons ill thought out post on a social networking site should lead to a 4 year jail sentence is madness. What happened to; “Individuals act of their own accord” now?
The media backlash and outcry has led to SOME of those involved in the riots to be sentenced more harshly than they would normally be. For example; an 18 year old was imprisoned for 1 day for stealing two Burberry t-shirts whilst a 23 year old, Nicolas Robinson, was charged to 6 months for stealing a £3.60 pack of bottled water. Clearly in some cases Judges have been swayed by the “public outrage” presented by the newspapers and MPs. Sentencing laws have gone out the window.
It’s a complicated discussion as the media clearly does influence people, as seen by the reaction of the public and judges sentencing, but similarly we as individuals are responsible for our own actions.
And finally, lets not forget that social media was also used in a positive way; to co-ordinate a clean up. Out of the chaos came a community spirit not often seen. During the day whole communities came together to clean the streets and start rebuilding their area and at night vigilante groups were out in force and kept our streets safe.