Organizers of riots that swept through London over the weekend shunned Twitter and Facebook and used Blackberry’s instant messenger system because it is “fast, free and private.”
The riots follow the death of Mark Duggan during an alleged gunfight with police on Thursday. What started as peaceful protests outside Tottenham’s police station escalated to full-blown riots over the weekend. Duggan’s last BBM text message, according to Tech Crunch, was sent to his girlfriend and read “The Feds are following me.” Another account claimed that his final BBM message was"Watch out 4 a green vw van its trident dey jus jammed me"
In addition to being more private than Twitter and Facebook, BBM runs on the relatively inexpensive Blackberry handset making it a popular choice for younger Britons. Rioters have used BBM to communicate via a “shadow network” that avoids police surveillance.
Some, however, did turn to Twitter to share news that was passing through BBM.
“The news aint even showing the extent of what’s actually happening on the streets of Tottenheim! BBM is doing da ting right now!” L.A. Cartier (@lacartier) tweeted Sunday morning. Updates from other Twitter users were more nefarious, including posts that referenced BBM messages about where goods stolen during the riots were being sold and where BBM users could access photos of the violence.
While some news accounts blamed the violence and the orchestration of looting on Facebook and Twitter, it was clear by Sunday morning that most of the serious organization was taking place on BBM. The TechCrunch article by Mike Butcher was largely credited on social networks as accurately portraying how BBM was being used.
By Sunday afternoon, it appeared as if the police had been able to infiltrate the network, warning residents of London’s Enfield section that their neighborhood was a likely target for rioters.
The mainstream media had backed off its accusations against public social networks by Monday morning and was playing a game of catch up in trying to figure out how BBM was used. Their tool of choice for assessing the use of BBM in the riots? Twitter.
“Has anyone got any bbm messages that show its use in organising #londonriots ? Pls get in touch - kate.day [@] telegraph.co.uk Thanks,” London Telgraph reporter Kate Day tweeted on Monday.