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In the Riot Clean-up Social Media shows Itself as a Force of Social Good

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In the first couple of days of what started as the London riots, and quickly turned into the UK riots, social media took a battering on TV and in the press. Newspapers and websites were pinning the blame on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook and BlackBerry's Messenger app. The accusation was that these free social networks were being used to organise and fuel the violence.

While there was undoubtedly some truth to that accusation the same was also true of all media. True of television with its pictures of rioters displaying bravado, and a complete lack of fear in the of face of police lines, and the front page newspaper pictures of young men in hoodies, their faces covered with bandanas, standing tall on the streets of London as if they owned them. Those images created poster boys out of looting criminals.

However, yesterday something else began to emerge. The community struck back and began to organise, chiefly through Twitter, but using blogs and websites as well. It echoed in a larger way what had happened after the riots in Vancouver in June.

Early yesterday the hashtab #riotcleanup began appearing and it spread like wildfire, and it wasn't just a bunch of tweets, it resulted in concrete action as people came together to organise a clean-up of the streets of London that had been affected by several days of violent public disorder.

As a tweeter called @Glinner put it: "if the Big Society exists in things like #riotcleanup, remember that Cameron didn't give us it, the internet did".

It showed very clearly that there were two faces to social networks and the second was far stronger than the first. The hashtag #riotcleanup quickly became the UK's number one Twitter trend and more than 86,000 have since begun following the @riotcleanup Twitter account.

First they came to Hackney. They came with brooms, dustpans and brushes and rubbish sacks. They came to Camden and Clapham producing one of the most positive images of the last trouble days in London as dozens who had turned up to help raised their brooms in the air in a united show of defiance and community.

The number of people brought together by #riotcleanup in Clapham started at around 50 in the morning, but the numbers kept growing as more were alerted to what was going on. By midday there were a couple of hundred people as the community pulled together.

And it did pull together as cups of tea were made and handed out. Another great and widely shared picture yesterday showed Philippa Morgan-Walker and her husband, Jonny Walker, making tea for the police in Camden some of whom had been on duty for more than 30 hours.

In Battersea they turned up wearing T-shirts carrying the slogan "GOD LOVES BATTERSEA".

One of the organisers, @riotcleanup, wrote: "If they do this again. We do this again tomorrow. Solidarity for our communities. Show them they cannot win."

The idea was so simple, bring communities together and organise through social media. There was no baseball field to build, but it really was a case of tell them and they will come.

It wasn't just happening on Twitter large groups were quickly forming on Facebook. The Post riot clean-up: let's help London group has swelled to more than 18,000 members as clean-up dates were posted.

And it isn't just in London. As the trouble hit Manchester and the Midlands last night then this morning we have seen a similar outbreak of community on Twitter echoing the activity seen in London yesterday.

In Wolverhampton there is @riotcleanupWolv organising, which posted earlier: "Going to help the individual shops that need our help. Great spirit Wolverhampton. Well done all Wulfrunians!!". While in Salford and Manchester #salfordriotcleanup is underway.

The spontaneous way that it started, spread and resulted in real action is a testament to the positive power that social networks can play in our lives and the wider world.

We saw that in different ways after the earthquake in Japan and we saw it again in a different light as people used it to help organise change in Egypt and Tunisia and fuel the Arab Spring.

The number of ways we have now seen social media as a force for good far outweighs the examples of where it has been used in a negative or criminal way. I'm pretty sure we will see that good again.

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