Mark Duggan's killing didn’t start the London riots last summer. Twitter and Facebook did. Duggan’s death just lit the fire.
That was the idea behind Kevin Hartman’s South by Southwest presentation "What The London Riots Taught Us About Social Media" on Monday afternoon. Hartman, the director of consumer intelligence at Draftfcb Chicago, spoke on the drastic differences between last summer's riots and those that sprung up in the October 1985 when Cynthia Jarrett died from a stroke during a police raid of her home.
The most striking difference between the two incidents: In 1985, police arrested 69 individuals for riots, looting, and violence; last summer, riot-related arrests in England exceeded 1,000.
Hartman spent the past year looking at data compiled during the four-day rioting period between Aug. 6 and Aug. 10. He wanted to know why last year's riots swept through the entire country, and why the riots following Cynthia Jarrett's death were contained to the Tottenham borough.
His studies brought him to social-media statistics, where he found that over 713 tweets relating to the riots were sent from the UK during the period of violence. (England has a population of approximately 51 million people, meaning there were over 13 tweets per citizen sent about the riots.) It was the content of those tweets, however, that Hartman found most striking.
"The #LondonRiots were started by blacks because a cop killed a black man for those who didn't know," read one unsourced tweet Hartman posted on a projection screen.
"London rioters are the pampered children of the welfare state," read another. He flashed six in total, all of them making mention of transgressions between race or class. None of the tweets named Mark Duggan.
"This was a pick-your-poison riot," Hartman told the audience. "These were people armed with mobile phones who did not feel like they had a place in the world. If they wanted to be instigated, there was a way to get instigated."
Hartman turned the discussion to Facebook statistics. He noticed a significant trend downplaying the role of Mark Duggan's death in the August riots.
Over 600,000 Facebook users liked pages relating to the events, he said, with 400,000+ of those likes coming for pages made in mockery of the riots.
The next most liked pages were reportorial. They provided news about the events to followers. Over 100,000 individuals "liked" those pages. Pages dedicated to stopping the riots received 70,000 fans; those organizing city-wide cleanups received 40,000.
At the bottom of the list were pages created in tribute to Mark Duggan. Only 7,000 people liked"those, he said.
"This is just another sign that Duggan's death was just the spark that started it all," Hartman closed. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Photo by William79