Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Shoot the Blackberry Messenger

Recent news reports of the riots in London and other major cities in the UK made me angry. While we may not be able to condemn nor condone the actions of the police which resulted in the unfortunate death of an individual, we can surely agree mindless rampages involving property theft and destruction are simply uncivilized and unacceptable behavior. This is not a protest or civil disobedience in response to perceived oppression, but rather a bunch of loosely organized hooligans, using this event to justify their criminal acts. These are bad people who look for any excuse to break the rules and go wild. High unemployment, low income and poor education are possible factors contributing to the behavior of the gangs. But many of these young people know what they are doing is wrong and yet they carry on, misguided by a few false prophets, peer pressure and, apparently Blackberry messenger.

This is the other part of the news reports that angered me a bit. It is hardly earth shattering news that young people are using BBM to coordinate their activities. It may have been in this particular instance some of the gang members were using BBM. My guess is they were using other social networks and conventional means to communicate as well.

The news media, and to some degree the public, always demand we identify a "bad guy"  -- some one or some thing we can blame for all this chaos and destruction. BBM, in this case, became the lightening rod for attention as soon as it was mentioned in early reports. RIM has now suffered the consequences with their blackberry blog site being hacked in retaliation, not to mention the impact on the company's reputation.

Smart mobs, or SMOBS, are a new force to be dealt with by the authorities. We can applaud them when they bring down a military dictator but we must fear what they can do in situations like the riots in London.

People have been organizing since the dawn of history. Social networks are just the latest tool in their arsenal and have been used to achieve both good and bad outcomes. For example, today Twitter is being used to  assemble people in neighborhoods in London to help clean up the mess. Other Tweets are directing people to Catch A Looter, one of several sites where you post photos of people caught in the act or help to identify them. We certainly know the good that ultimately came from the use of Facebook and Twitter in the recent overthrow of some truly oppressive governments in the middle east.

It is not BBM or any specific social network that is at fault but rather individuals and the way in which these tools are being used by them to accelerate the spread of mayhem and destruction. The police and other authorities must acquire the skills and technology necessary to detect and combat these individuals, no matter what mechanism they choose to employ.

Let's figure out how to catch the bad guys and not shoot the messenger.

Captain Joe

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