Don’t shoot the Messenger

Much has been made of the looters and rioters using Blackberry’s RIM Instant Messaging service, Blackberry Messenger (BBM), to co-ordinate themselves and swiftly pass on information about where to hit and when.

It, along with Facebook, Twitter and the generic phrase “Soshall Meeja” has been to ‘blame’ for the efficiency of the acts of terror on communities throughout the UK (Well, throughout England, since the other countries of the UK kept quiet and stayed at home to watch it all on telly).

Old fogies and some politicians want Soshall Meeja closed down or ‘interrupted’ during times of unrest.

That’s just silly.

Since humans first sussed how to organise themselves in battles they’ve had methods of communication.  At one point it was runners who would head back to base with messages in their heads or on scrolls.  Then there were the carrier pigeons.  More recently it was through the use of radio and morse code, then radio and voice.

Mobs were able to organise themselves over Citizens Band radio, cheap walkie-talkies, and eventually mobile phones.  Now, via their mobile phones they can rapidly provide key information from one to many via text based social networking.

A hundred years ago there was limited mobility as information took its time to circulate.  Today it’s instant.

For many decades the police had the advantage of instant communication via their radio system, making them more efficient than the mobs who didn’t.  Now, worryingly, the mobs have caught up or even become better at instantly communicating than the police are.

However, you can’t blame the homing pigeon for the fact it was being used to pass messages to others. You can’t blame the airwaves for the fact that radio was being used to pass messages to others.

You can’t blame social media as if social media itself is a bad thing.  It isn’t.  Let’s face it, an awful lot of good has come of and via it in recent days, as the riot clean-ups and the goodwill shown to the beaten and mugged student have shown.

Instead of trying to silence it, you have to learn to use it and to be able to monitor what your ‘enemy’ is saying as well as what your ‘friend’ is saying.  During the World Wars they monitored radio messages and decoded what was being said so that they could gather ‘intelligence’ and were then able to act.

Likewise, in today’s scenerio, the authorities need to embrace and understand the world of BBM, Twitter and Facebook, and to watch it and to learn from it.  Then, they have to use it to help beat the criminals at their own game.

Just like the backward thinking politicians and idiots who don’t ‘get’ social media, the awful mainstream news media condemn the use of social media by the criminals whilst spending most of their lives using it for lazy sloppy journalism.  They watch Twitter and then re-write what people are saying on it into a supposed news story.  To flesh out their ‘news’ they’ll steal and publish people’s photos and videos of stuff.  They’ll even make a full ‘story’ from a 140 character ‘tweet’ from footballers or celebs who has announced something via it.

Mainstream media doesn’t ‘understand’ BBM and so will witter on about how it must have been chosen by the criminals because it is a very closed system.  Wrong.  It is chosen by teenagers because, until recently, it was the cheapest mobile instant messaging system to allow them unlimited contact with each other.  Until recent changes in data tariffs it was what they all had because it suited their needs and because everybody else they knew was on it, not because they could use it to assist criminal acts.

Social media isn’t a friend, it isn’t an enemy.  It’s no different to language and words.  You don’t and you can’t ban language and words or the air that the sound of them travels through.  Likewise there’s nothing gained by interrupting social media, ever.  Yes, make everybody responsible for what they ‘publish’ via social media, especially if it is inciting riots, bullying or deliberate intimidation and lies about people.  Prosecute individuals for the things they say, but don’t jam or ban social media.

To be one step ahead of the criminals, listen and learn instead!