HELEN MOORHOUSE VOICEOVER ARTIST / AUTHOR
There's no denying that Social Media was key in mobilising the mobs of looters, thieves and thugs swarming the streets of the UK over the past nights. Science-fiction-like news reports highlight growing locations where shutters are rolled off shopfronts like tins of sardines, livelihoods are engulfed in flames and hooded rioters display uncharacteristic perseverance as they bash in someone else's plate glass windows til they shatter.
It's not protest – it's greed, theft and delinquency. It's the actions of scum. The criminals disagree; “It's showin' da police we can do what we want, innit?”. No. You can't. No one can. Innit?
In as much as social media has been derided as a force that enabled these sickening scenes, it must also be credited as a force that has been responsible for huge displays of good. Through the last few days my Twitter feed has been a complete inspiration, showing hope that goodness will ultimately dominate.
The force of the Tweet has never been more apparent than in the rallying calls to simply come clean up. Morning after morning, England's cities have been engulfed in deck scrubs and marigolds as fast as they were swamped by thieves. The picture of the cleanup volunteers at Clapham, brushes aloft, tweeted and retweeted on Tuesday morning, is surely one of the most stirring positive sights that we have seen for a long time in a city that survived the Blitz with the same determination and good humour.
As Irish people, it's worth our while to remember that most, if not all of us, know someone, care for someone, have lived or might plan to live in the UK at some point. When things really started to kick off a quick visit to Facebook and Twitter established for me that relatives near Croydon and friends in Birmingham and Clapham were all safe and sound.
Irish people in Britain have been as threatened as every other nationality over the past few nights. We can't say that this is not our problem – who can forget the Love Ulster Riots of 2006? We've had our own taster and it behoves us to keep a close eye on current events because we can't be so socially superior to assume that it'll never happen to us. The type of sickening perpetrator involved is a universal phenomenon as are the excuses – education, unemployment, disaffectation. Lack of respect for other humans is not something that's confined to the UK. Neither is copycat behaviour.
Something else that we share with our closest neighbours is a wonderful gallows sense of humour, however, and this, above all else, is what's most inspiring when following Twitter closely this week. It's the jokes – the ability to be quick, funny and clever in 140 characters to keep spirits aloft. Alan Carr created an image of Cameron striding forth, wielding the oversized Toblerone he'd possibly brought back from holidays, as a weapon. Many comments have praised the Kaiser Chiefs for being a hands-on part of the clean up; “...they could've quite easily sat back and said I told you so”, tweeted Simon Pegg.
Comedian Dan Skinner, tweeting as his alter ego Angelos Epithemiou from Shooting Stars, has created the hashtag #rapawaytheriots. His timeline is a volley of responses from ordinary people such as @bexybobs; “All the youth of the UK are turning to crime, but the tweeters on twitter be turnin' to RHYME” and @no_left_feet who sums up hours of political debate in the succinct summary “The thieving scum have no political agenda, they just wanna own the latest nintenda”.
Social media, particularly Twitter, has given everyone caught in this wave of violence and terror, a voice for the first time ever. Instead of relying on potentially self-serving representatives, ordinary folk now have a forum to express themselves, to make the jokes that show they have more wit and resilience in their forefingers than a thousand hoodies could ever possess, to express sympathy and to seek toys and blankets for people made homeless or to request dustpans and brushes for a smashed up store on a high street. Social Media has done so much to peacefully show that Jo Ordinary doesn't have to lie down and take this nonsense. As London-resident Irishman, Graham Linehan, tweeted on Wednesday morning “If the Big Society exists in things like #riotcleanup, remember that Cameron didn't give us it, the Internet did”.