The hot topic of the week has been covered extensively on The Conversation and the mainstream media... the English riots. This Roundup aims to reconcile two polarised camps debating the role of social and mobile media.

First up, a statement from the Prime Minister in the House of Commons yesterday: "... we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality." Conversationalist Mark Pack asks whether it is simply a question of politicians and pundits always trying to ban technologies they don't use.

I think the question has been poorly phrased when it takes the form... Were these riots caused by Twitter / Blackberry messenger / Facebook? No of course they weren't. Riots long preceded the rise of such media. But what if the question was rephrased... How was the character of these riots altered by the availability of such media?

The primary message coming out of The Conversation this week (see below) is that you can't blame social media or society's enthusiastic adoption of it. Yet this belies or at least underplays its influence in my opinion. I would never resort to such tabloid misrepresentation as when the Daily Mail labels one photograph of a London bus ablaze "Twitter riot", but equally it appears that mobile and social media were prominent over other media and forms of communication in organising the riots.

In his famous 1967 polemic "The Medium is the Massage", Marshall McLuhan asserts: "All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered."

Beginning an empirical analysis we would have to distinguish between variables (eg, how fast is the car going?) and parameters (eg, how far is the accelerator pedal pressed down?). Many pundits find themselves debating the variables whereas I think we're looking here at a media with substantially different parametric characteristics.

And when we do some systems thinking for these riots and similar phenomena I think we'll find that the relationship between the parameters (eg, how are we communicating?) with the variables (eg, how quickly does this thing escalate?) will demonstrate that the system is out of kilter with our historic norms. And when this happens the best course of action is rarely to try and roll back the changes manifest – they are manifest and there is no going back - but to adjust other parameters accordingly. Engineers refer to this as feedback control.

What does that mean exactly if we're to dampen the rate at which future riots might escalate? Well, I'd start by making sure the counter-positions, the reasons not to riot, are communicated via precisely the same media, living up to the very definition of Grunig's fourth model of public relations in trying to affect mutual understanding. And then I'd seek to sensitise the operations of emergency services to this new media.

I'd refer to this as keeping abreast of the Six Influence Flows, and this is precisely the journey some of our best companies have embarked upon in communicating with their stakeholders. We've seen some members of the public initiate positive and beneficial responses to the riots via social media, as described in some of the posts below. It's now time for the government to do the same.

Best regards, Philip and The Conversation team.


Please note, this Conversation Roundup is written in my own capacity. I am not a spokesperson for the CIPR.


#Londonriots – Fuelled By Mobile, Not Social Media

by Julio Romo of twofourseven

Social media sites Facebook and twitter were blamed today by Government and Metropolitan Police spokespeople for fanning the UK #Londonriots and looting over the weekend. Fingers were pointed at these social networking sites for the fact that they enable people to send out calls for people to gather together.The disturbances happened after the fatal shooting of Tottenham father of four Mark Duggan who was allegedly killed in a minicab on Thursday by police firearm officers. Blaming these sites is just placing a distraction for the real reasons for the unlawful behaviour that took place, highlighting a lack of understanding or will to understand of how people use social media today. More...


Don’t blame Twitter or Facebook for London riots

by Graham Jones of Internet Psychology

Apparently, as I return from holiday, “mindless thugs” have overtaken London, setting fire to large parts of Croydon, rioting in Tottenham, upturning Ealing and running amok in Enfield. That’s to say nothing of the violence in Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool overnight. The police seem helpless, politicians are rushing back from their holidays and the world looks on open-mouthed. In the midst of all the chaos, Twitter and Facebook are being blamed for providing the rioters with the ability to organise themselves and be one-step ahead of the police. More...


The Social Media Scapegoat - Why Twitter Isn't To Blame for Riots!

by Chris Date of Rave Communications Ltd.

None of us can fail to have been moved by what we have seen unfold over the past few days. The age of rolling news makes it easy for us to become immersed in the mayhem that has spread across UK cities - and I for one was moved to tears at hearing the Reeves family speak on Sky News last night about seeing their family business of five generations go up in flames in Croydon.

It must surely be clear to most that events over the last two nights have had little or nothing to do with Mark Duggan. Whether these scenes are indicative of a long term breakdown in the moral fabric of society, caused by a lack of respect for authority and property that has been bubbling under for some time, is a debate for elsewhere. More...


8 flexible and creative thinking tips for responding to ‘the riots’

by Andy Green of andygreencreativity

The riots across the UK have shown the worst – and the best of people.

The film of a young man being callously mugged on the street while being injured can make you despair of humanity.

Yet, the widespread responses of people positively demonstrating their reaction to mindless destruction can equally warm your heart – that maybe all is not lost with humankind.

Here are eight flexible thinking tips to help you in guiding your thoughts in response to ‘the riots’: More...


Banning social media for riots: ‘perilous’ and ‘stupid’

by Simon Hilliard of Racepoint Group

Following the intense rioting in London this week, social media and online services are now in the firing line from politicians. There have been fresh calls for Twitter and RIM’s BBM service to be suspended or blocked, as both have both been used to help organise and coordinate riot activities.

We’ve already highlighted this earlier in the week, but with fresh calls today from David Cameron and the Home Security for bans it seems worth bringing up again.

Cameron has stated today “We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.” More...


Is it simply a question of politicians and pundits always trying to ban technologies they don't use?

by Mark Pack of MHP Communications

In amongst the many causes and contributing factors to this week's riots, technology certainly takes its place. My Engine colleague Jon Akwue has accurately pointed out how it was Blackberry Messenger far more than the headline-favourite son Twitter which was involved, and the use of technology was by no means all for the bad – witness the Twitter-organised cleanup operations for example.

Yet from some commentators and MPs there were immediate demands to suspend, curtail or otherwise regulate social networks. More...