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2011 United Kingdom Riots refers to a series of civil disturbances and violent demonstrations that occured in various regions of London and several other cities of England in early August 2011. Described by the local media as the nation’s first social media-driven riot, the herd mentality was heavily amplified through the use of mobile web and social networking services, similar to the Vancouver riot in June 2011.
On August 4th, 2011, a 29-year-old man Mark Duggan was fatally shot by the British Metropolitan police officers during an attempted arrest in Tottenham. Two days later on August 6th, a street protest was held in front of Tottenhan Police Station where a crowd of nearly 200 people, including Duggan’s relatives and friends, demanded more information regarding his death.
During the protest, some participants in the crowds became violent and the gathering escalated into a street riot. Beginning around 10:00pm, attacks were carried out on police cars, a double-decker bus and local businesses. Several stores were reportedly looted by rioters after windows were smashed and Tottenham’s post office building was set ablaze by a gang of youths. In addition, fireworks, petrol bombs and other improvised explosives were thrown at police on the scene, injuring twenty six officers. The firefighters experienced difficulty reaching a burning building due to the disorder.
In the following days, disturbances continued an spread to other areas of the city, including Wood Green, Enfield Town, Ponders End and Brixton, and across multiple cities and towns across England.
August 6-7th: Coordination of Attacks
Less than an hour after the riot erupted, a Facebook memorial page titled “Fans of the R.I.P Mark Duggan” was launched, which gained thousands of fans on the social networking site. When rioters set a double decker bus on fire, the page posted status updates encouraging people on the scene to post their videos and images and partake in action:
bq “Please upload any pictures or video’s you may have from tonight in Tottenham. Share it with people to send the message out as to why this has blown into a riot.” – 10:45pm
- Twitter Hashtag #LondonRiots quickly became a trending topic in the UK region, with Londoners tweeting pictures and locations of riot scenes in real time.
According to a statistics report published via Experian Hitwise on August 8th, Twitter saw its biggest spike ever in United Kingdom traffic. The report explained that “one in every 170 U.K. Internet visits on Monday was to Twitter, with the Twitter homepage receiving 3.4 million visits in the U.K. alone.”
- Meanwhile, Google user boyle began tracking the the sites of riots using Google Maps. The Guardian also created a Google Map showing the latest hotspots of riots on August 8th.
View Initial London riots / UK riots in a larger map
August 8th: Twitter & Blackberry Blamed
- Following the second night of riots across London, the British police authorities and the press reported that social media networks and mobile services like Twitter and Blackberry messenger played an influential role in spreading and organizing the violent outbursts. British authorities agreed, including London’s deputy assistant commissioner Steve Kavanagh who acknowledged its role during his appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme:
“Social media and other methods have been used to organise these levels of greed and criminality and we need to adapt and learn from what we are experiencing.”
August 9th: Cleanup Operations
- Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter users coordinated clean-up operations in their local neighborhoods; Facebook groups like “Post riot clean-up: let’s help London” and several others quickly emerged and
tens of thousands of Twitter users shared the latest information on voluntary clean-up efforts with hashtags #RiotCleanUp and #RiotWombles. The central organizer’s Twitter account @RiotCleanup gained over 50,000 followers in less than 10 hours of launch and continues to broadcast clean up locations and times.
- Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from his holiday in Italy and chaired an emergency meeting of COBR. In a statement at 11:00, Cameron announced that 16,000 police officers will be deployed in London in anticipation of further violence, with all police leave cancelled. It was also announced that Parliament will be recalled on August 11th to debate the situation.
- Over 525 people have been arrested since the start of the disruption, and the Metropolitan Police have announced their intention to use baton rounds against rioters if necessary. At the end of the day the arrests have raised to 563 since the start of the disruption, with 100 arrests made in Birmingham.
- The UK Metropolitan Police Service launched a crowd-sourced investigation as part of Operation Withen, asking Londoners to identify the faces captured in CCTV images uploaded via Flickr.
As anti-riot sentiments continued to take hold on Twitter and Facebook, a single topic Tumblr Photoshoplooter was launched, featuring funny photographs of looters in action that are photoshopped in mockery. A compilation is also available in print, all profits of which will go to charities towards those affected by the riots.
August 10th-11th: Government Responds
- David Cameron chaired another emergency meeting of COBRA, mid-morning. In a statement at 11:05, Cameron announced that plastic bullets were available to the police for use in response to the riots if necessary, and contingency plans have been put in place to make water cannon available at 24 hours notice.
- By 08:05, police had made more than 1,100 arrests, including 768 in London, 35 in Liverpool, 5 in Milton Keynes, 90 in Nottingham, 13 in Leicester and 19 in Bristol. By 15:00, the police had made 113 arrests in Greater Manchester. 
- There were reports that the incidents had been coordinated using a variety of communications media, including BlackBerry Messenger broadcasts. Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, announced that they were cooperating with police. The Metropolitan Police considered whether to shut down the service in an effort to hamper coordination of rioting. A hacker group called “TeaMp0isoN” (Team Poison) tried to hack Blackberry after RIM offered to help police.
August 12th: Debate Over Social Media Ban Proposal
‘We will not stop until this mindless violence and thuggery is defeated and law and order is fully restored on all our streets.’
In a parliamentary address on August 11th, British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a temporary ban of Blackberry Messenger and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The news of his proposal has been largely perceived as censorship by free speech activists and met by negative reactions on Twitter. According to BBC, senior sources in the government said that among the options they are considering are turning off mobile phone masts in riot areas or shutting down the accounts of identified suspects if the unrest resumes.
- On Facebook, over 900,000 users joined a group titled “Supporting the Met Police against the London rioters” to show their solidarity against looters and rioters. Another Facebook page “Zavilla: Identify Rioters” was launched to collect evidence and help the police identify riot suspects.
- An independent vigilante operation was launched via LondonRioters.co.uk, a website where users can upload pictures of rioters from the scenes for others to identify and viewers can submit the names of people they recognize in the photos.
- Another Google Group called “London Riots Facial Recognition” was formed to use facial recognition technologies to track down the identities of looters depicted in publicly shared images.
- On Tumblr, a photo-sharing blog titled “Catch A Lotter” was launched to compile a large collection of visual evidence showing incriminating activities as well as to identify the faces of rioters who were photographed on the scene.
- Ben Firshman, the co-founder of a company that supports hosting for applications written in Python, built a custom Google Map application that plots tweets with the #londonriots hashtag.
Facebook and Twitter Teens in UK Face Charges For Riot Incitement
- The police stated that some messages were posted on Twitter that were “inflammatory, inaccurate”, and they were considering arresting people for inciting violence. Police in Essex arrested a teenager for trying to incite a riot on Facebook, West Yorkshire Police arrested a girl for a similar offence regarding Wakefield and Dorset Police arrested and bailed a 23-year-old man for forwarding messages concerning a planned riot in Bournemouth.
- In Glasgow, a 16 year old was arrested in connection with creating a Facebook Group encouraging others to join the riots. In Dundee, an 18-year-old was arrested on similar charges, in connection with Facebook posts ecouarging others to show up in Dundee city center with weapons. Both teens appeared in their local courts on August 10th.
Brave Hackney Woman Scolds Rioters and Looters
- Amidst the chaos in London, one courageous woman became a national heroine after a video of her schooling the looters went viral on YouTube. Titled “Truly extraordinary speech by fearless West Indian woman in face of #Hackney rioters,” the video was shot on August 8th, 2011 and uploaded via Twitvid on the same night by Matthew Moore. The identity of the Hackney resident has been revealed as a 45-year-old grandmother Paulin Pearce.
Death and Injuries
- A 26-year-old man died following a shooting in Croydon, South London, in what police believe was a fight between looters. In Winson Green, Birmingham, three men were killed in a hit-and-run incident while attempting to protect their neighbourhood from rioters and looters.
- Between Monday afternoon and the early hours of Tuesday, 14 people were injured by rioters. They included a 67-year-old man who was hospitalised with a life-threatening injury after he was attacked while dealing with a litter-bin fire, and a 75-year-old woman who suffered a broken hip in Hackney. In Ealing, West London, a middle-aged man was beaten by rioters and taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. A total of 111 police officers and five police dogs were injured.
- In Barking, North-East London, A 20-year-old Malaysian student was beaten and then robbed twice by looters emptying his rucksack. Footage of the mugging was uploaded onto YouTube, infuriating millions of viewers. As of August 11th, the video has over 3.5 million views. He suffered a broken jaw, requiring surgery:
Looting & Property damage
Mass looting has been reported in various locations and it has been suspected that these are planned and organised. Estimated losses have been indicated to be in the region of £100m. The Metropolitan Police Service has assigned 450 detectives to hunt for rioters and looters. The list of photographed looters has been made available on their website. Shopkeepers estimated the damages in their Tottenham Hale and Tottenham branches at several million pounds. In addition, the riots caused the irretrievable loss of heritage architecture.
The Guardian – London riots: how BlackBerry Messenger played a key role
Washington Post Blog – Misinformation (and truth) spreading through social media