Riots and social media

Two men have been jailed in the UK for using Facebook to incite people to riots after what was the country’s worst civil disturbances for decades. This comes after a summer in which an Egyptian man named his baby daughter ‘Facebook’ in honour of the role the site played in the peaceful revolution in the country earlier in the summer. In light of these extraordinary events, we have a look at the role that social media is playing as a platform for unrest in the middle eastern and western worlds.

Lacking legal precedent: The strange thing about the jailings in the UK was that no one responded to the incitement to riot in the town where the two young men posted their message. No one met up next to McDonalds (or maccies, as they put it) for a spot of looting as the message. The severity of the sentence has been ascribed to the fact that the judge involved was senior and experienced, but he as there were no guideline cases (UK and US law follows the common law system, where previous cases are used to give guidelines to what follows – known as ‘case law’) he had to come up with an appropriate sentence himself.

Internet connectivity and the Arab Spring: Over 2011 we’ve seen radical changes sweep through many countries in the middle east. In most western countries we don’t even think twice about out connection to the internet or mobile phone, although of course our O2 connection will cut out when we go through a tunnel on the train, but in the middle east many governments are deliberately cutting off internet connections. The US government is working on parallel internet connections for activists in the ‘internet in a suitcase’ that is smuggled into these countries and creates a wireless network outside the control of the government.

Twitter and Facebook key in the middle east: Almost 90% of Tunisians and Egyptians questioned in March said that they were using Facebook to organise protests and spread the word about their views. Also, the most popular hashtags in the middle east in the first three months of 2011 were “Libya”, “Jan25”, “Bahrain”, “protest” and “Egypt”. These are among a wealth of revelations found the new second edition of the Arab Social Media Report by the Dubai School of Government which reveals the full extent of the importance of social media in the Arab Spring.

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