Live text coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, and Sky News fared much better, but it was Twitter—of course—that was the most responsive, most timely source of information about the rioting and looting up and down the country. Raw, uncensored, and unverified though it may be, it was also the best way to learn what was actually going on.
That’s because social networking sites have become standard tools in the arsenal of those organizing all kinds of mass action. They offer instant communications and easy ways for groups of like-minded individuals to come together. Systems such as Twitter’s hashtags make it easy for ad hoc networks to form around a common interest, act together, and then disband.
However, although rioters did tweet, and continue to tweet, about their acts of theft and vandalism, the blame has now shifted from Twitter to BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Rioters appear to have been setting their BBM statuses to tell their friends that they were out looting, and messaging each other to decide the best places to attack.
BBM might at first seem a strange choice; RIM’s core audience for the BlackBerry is enterprise users, and the rioters are primarily (though not exclusively) disaffected teenagers and young adults. But BlackBerry Messenger has a very compelling feature: it’s cheap. Though RIM would insist that its BlackBerrys are smartphones, many of them sell at feature phone prices, putting them within reach of many people who can’t afford “proper” smartphones. BlackBerrys are also readily available on pay-as-you-go plans, further broadening their availability. BBM can also be cheap to use, with unlimited BlackBerry mail and Messenger typically costing about £5 (around $8) a month—less than most data plans or unlimited text packages.
BlackBerry Messenger has another desirable feature: it’s a closed system. Unlike Twitter, where tweets are public broadcasts, or Facebook, where most messages are shared fairly indiscriminately, BBM is private. Most BBM messages are point-to-point, seen only by the sender and the receiver. Group messages are also possible; these too are only visible to those sending or receiving them. The entire system is also encrypted, offering less scope for surveillance by the police.
Very interesting story about social networking with Tweets and Blackbarry messages.