While many in the mainstream press blamed Facebook and Twitter for spreading the London riots that broke out Saturday, the technology used most frequently during the unrest appears to have been BlackBerry Messenger.
Bloggers are reporting that BBM messages began encouraging violence and disseminating rumors on Thursday, just after Tottenham resident Mark Duggan was shot by the police. These messages are sent free and immediately, and they can be sent to either individuals or to groups. Unlike in other social networking systems, however, the messages are private and secure. This is because users have to exchange their phones’ PINs before they can send messages to each other, and because the messages are encrypted during transmission.
Authorities in Britain were monitoring Facebook and Twitter to help allocate resources where they were needed, but they were not able to monitor BlackBerry Messenger traffic. Many Twitter posts included #BBM, a pointer to BlackBerry users that more detailed information was being shared on the BBM network.
Patrick Spence, the managing director regional marketing at Research In Motion (RIM), confirmed to The Guardian (U.K.) that the BlackBerry manufacturer had contacted police to assist with their investigations.
Wireless messages sent on a BlackBerry are so hard to intercept that BlackBerrys are the device of choice for both criminals and law enforcement, according to Canadian law enforcement authorities. These same privacy and security elements are widely believed to be a factor in BlackBerry’s popularity in the Middle East.
According to a recent Ofcom study, in the U.K. BlackBerry is used by 37 percent of those between 16 and 24, and the same percentage of those between 12 and 15, specifically because of the free BBM service.
Jonathan Akwe’s UrbanMashup blog – http://tinyurl.com/3byunju
Photo – “Looters and onlookers outside Foot Locker, Walworth Road, Elephant and Castle, London” by flickr user hozinja, used under Creative Commons license