Wick Communications

A riot in Vancouver

In Online media on 23 Jun 2011 at 2:57 pm

You undoubtedly heard about the rioting that occurred in Vancouver last week, after the Canadian city’s hockey team lost Game 7 of the championship and with it the Stanley Cup. Rioting after professional sports championships is nothing new (here’s quite a list), but the role of social media in such affairs strikes me as worth mention.

Damning photos of the vandalism began to appear on the Web even as events unfolded. Dozens of rioters could be seen in various poses of mayhem. Similar photos surfaced during past riots, but this time those photos were turned on the miscreants like never before.

The night of the riot, the Vancouver Police Department was tweeting, asking for any information about those misbehaving downtown. And the blogosphere, full of people who love their city, was eager to oblige.

This is just one of several blogs that were born that night, designed at least initially to help police capture people photographed in the act of destruction. As of Monday, police had made 117 arrests (though curiously only charged two people so far… I assume that charges just take a while under Canadian jurisprudence). They had received 4,400 e-mails from the public, containing more than 700 photos and dozens of videos of the rioting. …

Even some of those responsible for the damage were turning to the Web to publish their mea culpa. I found this rather extraordinary, though I don’t quite know whether to classify it as apology or explanation.

So where does all this leave the traditional media?

I think it’s our responsibility to add context when things like this happen. We should seek to contact those in the photo and write about their remorse or lack there of. We should report on the racism evident in many of the comments on these citizen blogs, and try to help us all understand where that is coming from. We should describe the dangers of the mob mentality and that of the next mob, the one that wants to hang high rioters who mostly turn out to be misguided kids with little or no criminal record. We should expound upon comments like this one, from a CTV news report, outlining a new kind of challenge for law enforcement:

Investigators say that while the massive load of information will help secure charges, it is also creating unique challenges.

“In a routine case we have a clear crime and then take steps to identify the suspect and compile evidence. In these cases, we have names of suspects before we know exactly what they did and where they did it. Obtaining that information quickly is the challenge as we work backwards from the end point to the beginning,” Sgt. Dale Weidman said.

In short, the flood of social media “coverage” of such events can be hard to beat for eyewitness reports that capture a small sliver of a larger, evolving situation. But it’s our job to tell readers what it all means.




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