As the London riots went into its third night, spreading into other parts of Britain, one thing became apparent: rioters used Research in Motion's BlackBerry Messenger to communicate. Tottenham, the part of London where the riots originated, had riots back in 1985 and a very obvious difference now is that megaphones have been replaced by social networking.
Sparked up by BBM
The first response to Mark Duggan's death (the incident, which instigated the riots) was the creation of a Facebook page in memory. After a bus was set on fire during the riots, the page posted, “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.” Reports also indicated that there were tweets that pointed at an attack on Sunday's Hackney Carnival, which police found and the Carnival was abruptly cancelled. Scotland Yard responded by saying that anyone who chose to incite violence on Twitter would not go unpunished.
However, beyond Facebook and Twitter, it was BBM that had a prolific stand in the London riots. According to a study, it was found that 37 percent of British teenagers use BlackBerry as their smartphone. BBM is the communication method of choice as it is 'free' (you still have to pay for data), and it can send one-to-many messages. Furthermore, since it is private, law enforcement agencies can't have immediate access to messages sent. Based on samples of BBMs obtained by multiple sources, it seems clear the the rioters used this method of communication to organize the riots. One such sample was a clear attempt at spreading the violence to Oxford Street.
“Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) f*** the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!”
Another BBM message sent right before the outbreak of violence in Enfield said, “Everyone in edmonton enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at enfield town station at 4 o clock sharp“.
Research in Motion, in the meantime, tweeted support for the London Police. They said, “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.” Which means, of course, that the rioters communicating over BBM don't have all the privacy in their messages that they thought they did.