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Group Assignment: The Use of Social Media within the London Riots 2011 Mapping Socio-Technical Issues (my part)

on January 18, 2012

What is behind Social Media and the London Riots Some background of social media and our current situations

Going through all the revolutions in medium from spoken language to open network, we have finally reached the time of social media. Social media are media for social interaction, as a superset beyond social communication, which share most or all of the following characteristics: Participation, Openness, Conversation, Community and Connectedness.46 And the basic forms of social media take on social networks, blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, micro Blogging, etc. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media substantially change the way of communication between organizations, communities, as well as individuals.

A study by the University of Maryland suggested that social media services may be addictive, and that users of social media services lead to a “fear of missing out”. There are various statistics that account for social media usage and effectiveness for individuals worldwide. Some of the most recent statistics are as follows:

␣ OneineveryninepeopleonEarthisonFacebook(Thisnumberiscalculatedbydividingthe planets 6.94 billion people by Facebook’s 750 million users)

␣ 50%ofthemobileInternettrafficintheUKisforFacebook47

␣ Morethan2.5millionwebsiteshaveintegratedwithFacebook

␣ College‐aged kids (18‐24) made up the fastest growing segment of users on Facebook in 2010. (

␣ 190millionaverageTweetsperdayoccuronTwitter(May2011)␣ Twitterisaddingnearly500,000usersaday ␣ YouTubehas490millionuniqueuserswhovisiteverymonth(asofFebruary2011) ␣ Wikipediahosts17millionarticles ␣ Wikipediaauthorstotalover91,000contributors ␣…

The evolutionary circle of humans, social media and society

Yes, we are now living in a media‐saturated world. We are engaged with media contents almost every second in our everyday life. We are exposed to media either willingly or unnoticed. Media largely changed our ways of living, ways of seeing and ways of doing things. We have enough reason to believe that it is not that we find news but that news finds us. But have we ever thought of how we finally get here; why our society developed into this stage; how can social media exert such a huge influence. Maybe a good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings. Human beings are essentially social creatures. People are restless in their pursuit of the satisfactions, reassurances and benefits produced by competitive advantages, conferred status and material gain.

Take one of the most important social networks Facebook as an example. People can find information, inspiration, like‐minded people, communities and collaborators faster than ever before. Besides the convenience it brings to us, much more yet can be found. Friendship, community, feedbacks, help, complicity, collaboration, conspiracies are everywhere. And through linkages, people are connected with each other within an invisible growing network. Everyone have the freedom to express and show themselves, no matter rich or poor; here everything can be accepted and spread, no matter truths or rumors.

And it is not hard to find that a key word in social network is share. We share our personal information, views on things, comments on others, even the relationships we own. But why we share? The Psychology of Sharing study completed by The New York Times in partnership with Latitude Research48, which combined qualitative research on heavy sharers and light sharers with a survey of 2,500 medium and heavy sharers, gave the five primary motivations for sharing they found.

1. We share to bring valuable and entertaining content to others 2. We share to define ourselves to others, and to receive social validation 3. We share to strengthen and nourish our relationships with one another 4. We share for self‐fulfilment—“We enjoy getting credit for it” 5. We share to advocate for causes we believe in, and less commonly, brands we want to support

In our research, we find that people usually show more interest in the things that can currently involve them and the behaviour of sharing emerges as an important satisfaction that promotes a sense of social belonging and presence, which is so precious in this industrial age. The motivations mentioned above also stems from this psychologically needs. So people need things that can engage them and social network is just like a perfect choice. And now let’s see how the network actually built and why it has such a huge influence in society, also we put some analyze in both technological determinism and social constructivism parallelly.

Initially there is a small group of people as the beginning users, who would like to accept this new form of socializing and tell their friends to join in, at the same time some feedbacks of usage returned to the designers and developers, which help the products or the technology develop and evolve to attract more people to get in. People connect with people, tool integrates with tool, and people use the tool, it is a whole huge bound system, from which we can see more people are engaged in just like an eddy and the technology is also evolving itself.

Once the network or the social community built, we have all walks of people enjoying sharing, then it’s time for the social network to exert its huge potential influence on the whole society.

Metcalfe’s law 49states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of

connected users of the system (n2). The greater number of users with the service, the more valuable the service becomes to the community. Even though the law is very much related to economics and business management, it is still very useful to help see the importance of the users in a social network. Deriving from Metcalfe’s Law, we can see every new “friend” accepted or added on these social networking sites makes the user’s profile ever more valuable and makes this network node more valuable and potential to play a bigger role. And with the group dynamics, we understand why this node of user can play effective role and snowball as the whole process goes on. According to Kurt Lewin, the founder of the movement to study groups scientifically, he coined the term group dynamics to describe the way groups and individuals act and react to changing circumstances. Group dynamics can be defined as a field of enquiry dedicated to the advancing knowledge about the nature of groups, the laws of their development and their interrelations with individuals, other groups and larger institutions. Based on the feelings and emotions, members of a group form a common perception.50

Let’s throw light on the social network used in London Riots. Before the riots happened, we have already formed a self‐expanding social community invisible with the social network, so once a message sent out, it spreads with a surprising speed in a wide range, and if it successfully reaches groups of active users with same agreement, then this message would just like a fuse making the whole case went on a wrong direction, and what ridiculous is that even some participants have no viewpoints but still be a part of the spreader, that because the whole social network opinion environment has driven the lesser following the mass. And because of the freedom of speech, we

Combined with Metcalfe’s Law and theories of Group dynamics, we may get a good understanding

of the facts behind the phenomenon that happen every day around us.

cannot control the contents sent on the Internet, and we can hardly tell the actual spread scale of the flowing data, gradually we may sometimes lose the control of the whole case. Just like Robin Mansell said, Professor of New Media and the Internet at London School of Economics and Political Science, “The new media speed things up, sometimes helping to make ideas go viral”51. Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom here. Social media sites have been embraced by the public to help arrest some rioters. Communities are also using sites to help them regroup and rebuild their lives. People are pulling together across the country not only to clean up but to rebuild society and ensure that wrongdoers are brought to justice.


46 Erik Qualman, 2010. Socialnomics. John Wiley&Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey.

47 Social Media Revolution 3 Based on #1 International Best Selling Socialnomics by Erik Qualman. Available at

48 Ian Greenleigh Motivation matters: New rearch on “The Psychology of Sharing”. Available at‐matters‐new‐research‐on‐the‐p sychology‐of‐sharing/

49 Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian (1999). Information Rules. Harvard Business Press. ISBN 087584863X.

50 Lewin, K. and Grabbe, P. (1945) ‘Conduct, knowledge and acceptance of new values’ Journal of Social Issues 2.

51 News Analysis: Social media in focus after British riots. Huang Kun (Xinhua)


2 responses to “Group Assignment: The Use of Social Media within the London Riots 2011 Mapping Socio-Technical Issues (my part)

  1. F says:

    Well written and structured way of thiking.

  2. Halley says:

    It’s going to be ending of mine day, except before ending I am reading this impressive paragraph to increase my experience.

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