In #Riot: Self-Organized, Hyper-Networked Revolts—Coming to a City Near You, Bill Wasik offers a thoughtful look at group behavior and the potential for social media to enable both peaceful and violent collective action. Wasik, senior editor at Wired and author of “And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture,” recounts a number of recent riots, including a large scale incident in London in August, 2011. The police had a particularly difficult time controlling the situation, in part because plans for the riot were very effectively communicated through BBM. Additionally, as soon as rioters were separated, they were able to use BBM to regroup at a new location.
Wasik brings depth to his analysis through incorporating the theories of Clifford Stott, a social psychology lecturer researcher, who believes that “crowds form what are essentially shared identities, which evolve as the situation changes.” According to Stott, behavior that seems like senseless violence to the outsider makes sense to the rioting group, which may share the same set of grievances.Wasik notes that the compounding of crowd psychology with the easy group formation offered by social media causes a particular challenge for police departments.
I thought about Vancouver’s 2011 Stanley Cup riots while I was reading #Riot. Having experienced Vancouver’s bonhomie and joyful street culture during the 2010 Olympics, I found the crowd behavior during the Stanley Cup riots unfathomable. It’s not clear whether social media played a role in crowdformation during the riot. And my sense is that the Stanley Cup rioters, many of whom were seemingly normal teenagers, were not necessarily bound by a shared sense of identity, as Stott might conjecture.
However, it was clear that the Vancouver citizens who watched the riots with dismay were bound by a shared sense of identity. By the time the night ended, Vancouverites wanting to clean up debris and demonstrate civic pride had formed groups through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr (Huffington Post, 2011).
Vancouverites also came together through social media to assist the police, who used image analysis technology on images from Youtube and Facebook to identify offenders (CBC, 2011). A night of unexpected collective action, both good and bad, reflects Wasik’s statement that, “We probably need to accept, as a simple fact of life in the digital age, that the freedom of assembly will necessarily imply the freedom of an enormous group of people—sometimes people who don't always behave themselves—to assemble with little or no warning."
Delicious stack for the three texts I've chosen. (Thank you Judith - your post reminded me of the beauty of the stack.)
CBC.ca. (2011). Vancouver police recommend 163 riot charges. Retrieved from: