While many are blaming social media for helping looters organize themselves during the riots that have swept across London the past two nights, it turns out social media may be even more useful to recovery efforts.
A spontaneous volunteer clean-up effort of the city is being organized on Twitter under the hashtag #riotcleanup, which is trending in London. At the center of the effort is the Twitter account @riotcleanup, which has attracted almost 70,000 followers in less than a day. The account, operated by artist Dan Thompson, shares information about where to go to help, and what needs to get done. There is also a Facebook page for sharing news and information.
(PHOTOS: The Great London Riots)
Along with photos of the cleanup, the web is awash with photos of the rioting and looting. So London Metropolitan Police are crowdsourcing their investigation by asking the public to help identify looters captured on CCTV surveillance cameras. They have posted stills of the looters to their Flickr page. This is reminiscent of Iranian authorities asking the public to help identify Green Revolution protesters captured by cell phone cameras.
In addition to the official efforts, two independent “name-and-shame” sites have also cropped up. One is a Tumblr site called “Catch a Looter,” and the other is an interactive gallery that lets users view one photo at a time and identify persons they recognize, as well as upload their own photos.
While social media may have helped rioters organized, it can’t be blamed for the riots. Twitter, Facebook and the rest are simply tools that can be used for good or ill. Luckily, the daily good uses vastly outnumber the occasional fall from grace.
Jerry Brito is a contributor to TIME. Find him on Twitter at @jerrybrito. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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