Viral, in a Bad Way

London Riots - Clapham

“Everyone run wild, all of London and others are invited! Pure terror and havoc & Free stuff. Just smash shop windows and cart out da stuff u want!”

We’ve heard a lot about Twitter and Iran, and Twitter and Egypt. Now we’ve got BlackBerry and cities in England. The Washington Post reports the above quote as one message that has been circulated recently.

And although the rioting began in London–the Prime Minister has deployed an additional 10,000 police officers there–it has now spread to other cities. While the shooting death of Mark Duggan may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in areas of London, the outbreak of violence in distant cities supports the idea that the camel was already laden pretty heavily.

Social media fosters connections between people, but this seems to be an example of how that can work against an awful lot of us. It appears that many rioters may be using BlackBerry Messenger, a popular app, to send encrypted messages. This means that unlike other recent outbreaks of unrest–again, Egypt–the messages are not on publicly viewable sites like Twitter. (Not that Twitter and Facebook have been ignored by rioters, mind you, but they aren’t the only tools being used to encourage “pure terror and havoc.”)

So often we hear about the desire to have messages and videos go viral, and it’s easy to overlook the dark side of this concept. But I think it’s important to take a look at these riots and consider: what about when viral goes wrong? And in the same vein, is crowdsourcing always as great as people like to say it is? What if your “crowd” is a group of rioters? That’s just mob rule, and no one benefits from that. Ultimately, not even the mob.

Photo by bayerberg, via Flickr.

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Posted on August 10, 2011, in Communication, Social Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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