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Social Media : From Zero to Hero

August 9, 2011

Following a night of very ugly rioting in London last night; residents seem to getting in touch with their inner Womble!  Armed with brooms and dustpans, groups of people have turned up all over the city in true British spirit, to clean up the streets.

And one of the unsung heroes of the day has to be Dan Thompson, the social media Womble responsible for the Twitter hashtag #riotcleanup. In addition, other hashtags have emerged including #solidarity #prayforlondon #riotwombles.

"Artist, writer, photographer and explorer" Dan Thompson started the Twitter hashtag last night after watching news reports from his home on the Sussex coast. He told Wired.co.uk that he has been up all night co-ordinating clear-up operations, letting people know where to head if they want to help; and also relaying requests from local business owners who need support clearing debris.

Thompson added that the first person to volunteer was musician Kate Nash and the overall response has been "phenomenal". He said: "Teams of volunteers have been out since the early hours and we are already getting responses back saying that areas are clear."

The creation of the #riotcleanup hashtag, along with others including #riotwombles, # liverpoolcleanup and #solidarity, was followed by the launch of the Twitter account @Riotcleanup. Instigated by Sam Duckworth, the founder of the Facebook group Get Cape, it now has 28,378 followers.

Over on Facebook, a page has been created called "Post riot clean-up: let's help London" where, much like on Twitter, people armed with brushes and bin bags, are co-ordinating meet-ups. And there are also pages calling for support for the Police and pages co-ordinating clean-ups in specific areas.

People, including actor and comedian Simon Pegg, have also been referencing the Riot Cleanup website, which was immediately inundated and suspended by its hosting company, 34SP.com. The hosting company has confirmed that it has now found "a more powerful hosting solution" and the website is back online.

Social networks are also being used to vent anger with two sites launched already to name and shame the looters. Using the vast amount of video footage and photographs that people have captured whilst out on the streets, or simply trying to get home -- members of the public are being asked to identify looters. Metropolitan Police officers are now trawling social networks for photographs of looters or for looters boasting about their hauls, but they are also urging members of the public to send images and footage in. They are posting them online to their Flickr account.

With 6,000 police unable to deter looters, perhaps it will be our community spirit which will dampen the efforts of the rioters. Such community cohesion just shows that the majority of British people are appalled by these random acts of vandalism.

And whilst Twitter may have been used to co-ordinate these senseless riots, it is now serving a more honourable purpose with the account @Riotcleanup getting thousands of new followers every hour.

For those who want to get involved in the clean-up, the social networks are buzzing with information and messages of good will; but should the very same networks be used to track down looters and to what end? It will be very interesting to see how this pans out…

Posted by Rebecca McCormick
Social Media

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