As I write this, buildings are burning in Manchester. Shop windows are being shattered in Birmingham. And, in the capital, stunned business owners are picking through the smouldering wreckage of their livelihoods and wondering what the future holds.
The disturbances that have been seen across England over the past few days have been seen before; every day, references are made to the rioting that happened in the early 1980s. But there is a difference. These riots are organised, premeditated, and calculated - thanks to instant messaging and social networks, such as Twitter.
Whereas a couple of decades ago the police force given the unenviable task of containing and dispersing the rioters had the advantage of quick and effective radio communication, in today's world the battle is fought on a more level playing field. It is widely reported that these opportunistic criminals - or 'feral rats', as one incensed shop-owner called them - have been using Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger to communicate details of locations to convene and begin their senseless looting.
This is social networking at its worst. In a world where communication is everything, the past few days have shown the effectiveness of sites such as Twitter in bringing like-minded individuals together in order to organise criminal activity. In doing so, the rioters form a camaraderie, a single mindset against authority; even mixing with rival gangs from neighbouring postcodes to unite, if but for a few days. This is not a rabble of people coming together via word of mouth; this is a horde of criminally-minded youths who have been inextricably linked via social media.
Not only can information on meeting places and potential targets be shared; so can advice and tips on how to evade police capture. One particular photograph shows a leaflet supposedly found outside a recently-looted Argos in Dalston, which gives advice to concerned criminals on how to avoid being caught. Whilst their acts are nothing more than mindless thuggery, there is an organisation behind these rioters which cannot be ignored; indeed, many MPs have called for BlackBerry Messenger to be shut down temporarily to prevent further information being shared.
But it is at times like this when social networking can come into its own as a force for good. As the flames raged in Croydon on Monday night, a movement was taking place on Twitter to organise gatherings of people who would set about tidying the streets of their beloved city the following day. And this they did, in their droves, once again united by social networks - but this time gathering on the streets not to loot and steal, but to sweep and clean, thus showing the criminals that they can take their possessions and their businesses, but they shall never prevail.
Follow Ben Wakeling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/benwakeling