I can hardly believe what I'm reading. The Guardian, having completed a study, reveals that Twitter and other social media sites were not the real villains in the recent riots.
In London, they report, most of the tweets followed after the violence had already broken out, whilst in Manchester the greatest proportion of tweets - 200,000 - were people organising themselves for the clean-up campaign. See here for the report in full.
Boris, Dave and Nick will no doubt be astounded to learn that social unrest most commonly has at its roots such trifling issues as poverty, inequality, racism and disenfranchisement. Which is a shame, because it's that much easier to replace hoodies with a nice cable knit and mobile devices with a copy of the Telegraph, thus replacing the urge for protest with the urge to take a nice fulfilling gap ya feeding tofu to ponies in Guatemala (or something).
Okay, enough sarcasm for the moment. The serious point I'm badly making is that it's outrageous to point the finger of blame for recent rioting at digital tools. They are just tools, after all. But since they're associated with youth and modernity, they get the blame. If rioters were writing FIIIIGHT!! on rolled-up bits of paper and sending it by carrier pigeon, would we have mass hysteria about the pigeon, a guerilla warrior for the urban poor? (Oops, there's that sarcasm again.)
Please, let's stop being afraid of 'youths', 'yobs', 'neds', 'chavs', 'neets', 'the asbo generation'. Let's stop giving them labels and start listening to them. Only a very small number of news channels bothered to speak to any ordinary kids in London, preferring instead to ask the opinion of academics and other boffins.
Please don't misunderstand me - I am not for one second condoning the despicable and mindless violence and crime that swept England earlier this month. Most of those people had no idea why they were doing it, but just wanted a big shiny new telly. Their actions are despicable. But this did start with a real issue: the blanket stop and search policy of the police, and their killing of a young man who did not, as it turned out, fire first.
The saddest thing about the looting that followed is that it served to obscure that genuine issue at the heart of the protests. It cheapened the cause, and in doing so it gave the Government the opportunity to perform a very easy sleight of hand, diverting our attention from poverty and racial tension to the evils of modern media and spoilt youth. "Now you see it, now you don't."
Image borrowed from here.
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