Facile journalism drives me nuts. The search for blame in the recent riots in England has been predictable in the traditional media. Within hours lazy and sensationalist journalists lay the blame for the riots, looting, violence and criminality at the feet of social media – specifically Twitter, Facebook and in recent days Blackberry (which is not a social media, but a messaging service).
But yet is it not 24 hour news channels – Sky and BBC News – producing ‘live from the scene’ pictures of the excitement on the streets? Treating the riots like a sport, showing players, spectators and results (or more accurately rioters, by-standers and burning and looting), are the media playing an active role in letting people know where these disturbances are occurring? And showing the raw excitement of the events?
Social media played no part in the Brixton riots of 1981. They spread to Handsworth in Birmingham, Southall in London, Toxteth in Liverpool, Hyson Green in Nottingham and Moss Side in Manchester. There was no Twitter, Facebook or Blackberry in 1981. Neither, of course, were there 24 hour news channels. But there was plenty of traditional media.
To try to understand – no matter how difficult that is – is not to condone. Yes, this is all criminal. Is it political? Probably not. But the residents of Mayfair, Chelsea, and Sloan Square are not repeating these events. The violence is not a new night-time activity for the people who live in the posh parts of the major English cities.
So let the traditional media look beyond how people are communicating and look at – then campaign to fix – the social situations that have led to this mess.