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Overcoming Violence Through Positive Social Influence

What is the power of influence? Is it our ability to persuade those around us into performing a certain action or thinking a certain way? Is this merely the action that influences us or does the power reside in the individual? Does this influence increase exponentially when you factor in the power of one’s social network?

The last few weeks have seen London and other parts of the UK ablaze and looted in riots protesting the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. This riot is unlike any other because social media’s role is the greatest it has ever been. The riots spread to Walthamstow, Oxford Circus, Islington and Enfield because of people taking to social media to organize attacks. Social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and even RIM’s Blackberry Messenger (BBM) were used initially to communicate about where to meet and where to target next.

Citizens Using Their Social Influence to Take Action and Clean Up

At the start of this, social media sites might have been used to organize riots, but they have also contributed to the exact opposite. As the weeks went by and rioters lay siege to the country, a different group of citizens began to take action. Local communities are taking to Twitter and Facebook in order to organize clean-ups and to encourage the rioters to stop.

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The above image is a Facebook page in protest of the London Riots and is asking for people to join to support the efforts to maintain peace as well as to help clean up the cities.

The power of social media has been positive for its ability to target and influence a large group of people fast, in real-time, and in an organized manner. The handle @RiotCleanup already has almost 88,000 followers and is being used to coordinate where groups are meeting and when to clean up. In this case, the power of social networking is being used for good.

The photo below (credit: Daily Mail) shows one of the many towns who organized under the hashtags of #riotwombles and #riotcleanup to coordinate clean up efforts.

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Using Facebook and Twitter they organized in larger numbers than the looters who rioted across the UK and have shown that social media is even more powerful when it influences those to take positive steps for social change.
Social Media as a Crime Research Tool
Many of us have seen the show “America’s Most Wanted” were they show you a picture or video of a crime and ask you to help catch the criminal. An interesting development in the aftermath of the London riots is using social media to trace faces, and therefore track down rioters. Forbes.com reports that the London police have already started posting stills from their surveillance camera, and posting the pictures to their Flickr account asking for people to identify the individuals. There has also been talk to use Face.com facial recognition app in order to track down rioters. A flyer (shown below) that has been circulating around London advices rioters to get rid of any clothes or jewelry that they were wearing to make it harder to be identified in these pictures. We are now able to rely on technology and social media as opposed to community tips by utilizing social media tools.
How Will You Wield Your Social Influence to Be Revolutionary
If anything positive can come out of the London riots, it is that this has been an incredible learning experience into using social media to respond to tragedies. The citizens of the UK wielded their social media influence to respond instantly and came together to organize people to clean-up their cities and to encourage peace. In addition, social media sites can be used to help trace those that are causing the riots. If monitored properly, police can stay up to date with what the rioters are planning. Also, with the help of facial recognition apps on social media sites, as well as Flickr, officials are able to track rioters with technology alone. Social media may have influenced and helped rioters organize to continue their attacks, but it this influence by every day people has prevented and dealt with the riots aftermath in an organized and real-time manner that shows how revolutionary social influence can be in today’s world. So how will you wield your social influence?

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