Social media can be put to criminal use, as the recent London riots proved. But it’s equally potent as a force for good, says Clive Longbottom.

As the politicians continue to argue over the causes of the riots that hit the UK in early August 2011, much pontificating has gone on about the role BlackBerry Messenger (BMM), Twitter and Facebook played in the events.

It is apparent that those behind the riots came from a mix of backgrounds and the main cause of the unrest had little to do with the death of Mark Duggan. Out-and-out greed was the order of the day.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook gave police valuable intelligence about the plans of riotersPhoto: hozinja

Sure, there were individuals who, if they had spent a few minutes reflecting on what they were thinking of doing, would not have done it, and sheep who just followed others blindly. Some of these individuals even used social networking sites either to tell others to join in or to boast of what they had done after the event.

But the main problem seems to be where real criminal forces were at work – the criminal gangs that are continually looking for situations to exploit, bringing individuals into their plans as smokescreens for their activities. The riots were highly organised at a core level and it is certain that social networking was used to co-ordinate how the looting could be carried out to provide the best overall haul for the gangs themselves.

A host of politicians, mostly removed from the real world, have called for law enforcement agencies to be able to shut down social networks to prevent them being used to stir up unrest.

This approach is plainly unworkable. For a start, the rioters during the French Revolution of the late 18th century did not have les M