Think twice before you riot in the social media age!

In 2011, when I was living in Vancouver, the local hockey team, the Canucks, made the Stanley Cup finals. There was a lot of buzz and excitement in the city. The finals comprise the best of seven games. The Canucks and the Boston Bruins were tied at three games apiece, with the final to be played in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the Canucks lost the game.

Ten minutes after the siren, all hell broke loose when a mob decided to riot and trash the city. Retail stores were smashed and looted, cars were tipped over and set alight, and fires were lit in buildings. Luckily, casualties were kept to a minimum, but the city’s reputation was tarnished on a global scale – which, if you know Vancouver, does not represent the city at all.

For me, the riots really showed the power of social media. When peopled rioted in Vancouver in 1994, there were no smartphones to capture the crimes – it was up to the police to arrest offenders on the spot. In 2011, there were hundreds of fans with mobile phones recording the rioters.

There are two arguments that respectively condemn and support the role of said phones. The first is that the videoing fans were only encouraging the rioters. The second is that they were out in force to catch criminals in the act. I think both arguments are accurate. I also think that, with or without mobile technology, the rioters would have behaved the same. The interesting point is what happened after the riots: the Vancouver police used social media and mobile videos to capture the criminals. They’d had a hard job with the riots – and couldn’t be everywhere at all times – so technology really came to their assistance.

Unbelievably, a number of rioters were easy to catch after they boasted about their exploits on Facebook:

Think twice before you riot in the social media age

Then people named and shamed those they’d captured in photos or videos. This Facebook page was dedicated to finding a culprit:

Think twice before you riot in the social media age

And then there were those that lost their jobs. Camille Cacino, who was filmed in a three-second video clip stealing clothing, was fired from her part-time receptionist job at a car dealership.

Here is the incriminating photo of Camille that was posted on Facebook.

Professional mountain biker Alex Prochazka posed in front of a burning car while wearing a T-shirt from his sponsor Oakley. Needless to say, he lost his sponsorship. Here’s Alex with his tongue hanging out in front of a burning car. Smart guy.

Credit needs to go to the Vancouver Police Department. They quickly realised there was a wealth of footage of rioters and, as a result, set up a site where people could name and shame them. The site is called Vancouver Riot 2011 – Help Identify Suspects. It contains images of suspects, who you can identify for police by filling out their details. The site has been hugely successful, and is responsible for 176 charges. That’s 176 charges that wouldn’t have happened without social media and mobile phones. Check the site out.

Here are the key stats from the site.

I think the aftermath of the riots is a testament to technology. A minority trashed the city, but the majority fought back to identify those responsible and hold them to account. Such is the power of social media.

Image courtesy of Dave_B’s flickr photostream