I’m a big fan of roots causes. The UK riots are intriguing in part because the part of British political and economic culture that are driving the hooligany strife seem far and away more complicated than authorities (and much of the press) are saying. Nothing happens for no reason, but there is a sense that proximate causes get more blame than is their due.
One of the first to be pilloried on the ol’It’s-This-Guy’s-Fault stage is social media. Authorities in the UK have stepped up to say that Blackberry Messenger, Facebook, and Twitter, erstwhile heros of the Arab Spring are bringing down British Civil society.
From the CBC:
When social media helped protesters organize and overthrow corrupt regimes in the Arab world earlier this year, while also providing citizen journalism when the mainstream media was shut out, they were lauded as tools of democracy.
However, when the same methods are used in a scenario like Britain, they are seen as disturbing, says Boler, who teaches at the University of of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
“Here it’s not about a dictator. Here the issue is the corporation as a representative symbol. These things always spiral off into hitting the mom and pop stores, which is unfortunate,” says Boler.
A writer named Kami makes the same point with this post on Facebook.
“Cuz [sic] people who protest in the western countries are rioters, looters, and violent enemies of the good state, so social media is the “catalyst.” In Egypt and elsewhere, social media was the tool that made revolution against evil dictators possible. Look for facebook [sic] and others to either have a major overhaul, be a tool for arrests/disappearances, or be named an enemy of the state when massive uprisings happen in the US.”
The social media aspect is actually a distraction from deep-rooted issues and the real story, which is chronic economic malaise and the growing disparity between rich and poor in Britain, just as was the case in the Arab uprisings, says Boler.
“It’s no coincidence this would happen so soon after the world-wide freakout about stocks and the economic crisis.[source]
I think the declaration that social media has become a political force is probably tasting a little more bitter than it did back in February. To some at least. Not myself. I think that pinning the Arab Spring to social media’s chest and now in the UK is as much an unfortunate oversimplification as blaming riots purely on hooliganism.
Sure, you can blame Facebook or Blackberry, but limiting these services will hardly stop the effect. Egypt is a good example of how this doesn’t work. Scapegoating is often used a quick fix for deeply seeded social problems, but it is not necessarily the best long-term response to over-boiling social issues.