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Three years ago, notorious street artist Banksy turned heads with his iconic “One Nation Under CCTV” three-story graffiti commentary on a wall near London’s Oxford Circus — done stealthily as closed-circuit TVs monitored the area.
Those ever-present security cameras peering over much of central London’s business districts, however, can’t seem to deter rioting teens in an age of social-media aliases, encrypted text messages and trending topics buzzing up-to-the-minute riot info in pants pockets.
Unlike the Middle East uprisings earlier this year, the relationship between this week’s riots in Britain and Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms is not entirely clear.
“You can’t make a connection between London and what happened in Tunisia or Egypt, in regards to sophistication,” said Andy Carvin, senior strategist at NPR in Washington, D.C.
Carvin is among hundreds of Twitter users in the U.S. and abroad poring over Tweets from and about the riots in an attempt to make sense of it all. As with all things viral, the number of users adding qualitative information to the discussion is but a fraction of those conversing on popular Twitter hashtags.
Since the violence began four days ago, the hashtag “#londonriots” has been a fixture in the 24-hour global conversation.
“Reporters are aggregating, as are regular people,” Carvin said. “The mainstream media is not dominating the conversation on London.”
Follow the story on social media, and the rioting looks less like a direct response to a single shooting than an excuse for restless youth to act out during a time of summer vacation and unemployment — and to stay glued to their mobile phones.
The BBC reports that Scotland Yard officials believe rioters are using BlackBerry Messenger to send free, encrypted text messages containing renegade plans or meeting spots. On Tuesday, British lawmakers called for BlackBerry to suspend BBM — a move that would potentially affect millions and possibly incite more violence.
A 16-year-old in Glasglow, Scotland, was detained Tuesday under suspicion of provoking violence on his Facebook page.
Yet, with technology advancing too fast for lawmakers and police officials to understand, the social universe is still very much the Wild West — and very much in flux.
Late Tuesday, Londoners tweeted pictures of groups armed with push brooms, dustpans and trash bags instead of Molotov cocktails. The social-media movement turned positive, turning up such hashtags as “#RiotCleanUp,” “#prayforlondon” and “#OperationCupOf-Tea,” proving that, perhaps, it’s less the cause and more the popular trend that matters.