One of the many positive aspects of unemployment is listening to the radio to the extent that changes in the Radio 4 schedule begin to form a seasonal cycle, with the start of a new series of “The News Quiz” marking a kind of secular saint’s day.
The last 18 months have provided particularly rich pickings for the dedicated news buff. First there was General Election and the formation of the coalition government. Then came student protests, The Arab Spring, the privacy debate, the fall of the House of Murdoch and, more recently, the tragic shootings in Norway and the August riots.
Mine goes like this:
There have always been riots. Some have clear causes – hunger, injustice, political extremism, heavy handed policing. Some don’t – they just happen. For what it’s worth, I suspect that last week’s events fall into the second category. I also suspect that a bit of nice weather and the fact that it was the middle of the school holidays were contributory factors.
One of the main differences this time round was the use of social networking. There was much wringing of hands about the use of Blackberry and other technologies to control and direct the activities of the looters. Less attention was given to the role of social networking in responding to the riots.
I spent some time last week watching events on Twitter and Facebook. People were busy organising against the riots. After the first night of trouble, social networking had organised street cleaning gangs armed with rubbish bags and the instantly iconic brooms. This was something different – the restoration of order had ceased to be the monopoly of politicians and public officials.
My personal contribution was to join an anti-riot called “operation cup of tea”. The idea was to make a cup of tea (or another beverage of choice) and take a photograph of yourself drinking it. This was the “silent majority” finding a voice. The news media had ceased to have a monopoly on telling the story. Last time I looked, there were over 300,000 people signed up.