August 16, 2011, 12:00 AM — The nature and motivation of social protest may not have changed, but the technology being used to organize, punish and excuse it sure have.
An Aug. 8 story in the U.K.'s Daily Mail story opens with a nostalgic description of the protest as an open-air shouting match 25 years ago has transitioned into the social-media-informed, txt-message-organized riots earlier this month in London.
Blackberries got a lot of the blame, in fact, because some protesters used RIM's ubiquitous business network to organize gathering and shouting points, though police also pulled data from mobile phone carriers to help identify rioters and looters.
Social networks got the blame next, because any discussion held over networks or media enabled by a computer must be, somehow, the fault of the computer itself.
It didn't matter that those opposing both the protests and riots also used social-networking techniques (in this case to ask people to upload pictures of rioters, so they could be caught more easily).
British law enforcement agencies are already using the riot and alleged use of various networks and mobile phone networks by rioters as an excuse to expand their already broad powers to demand information on the location and calling activity of private citizens and to censor content on otherwise public networks.