Sunday, 14 August 2011

Will West Coast social media invade Toronto?

Will West Coast social media invade Toronto?

With the first anniversary of the G20 riots in our rear-view mirror, could Torontonians have done more to help? A prime example of help is the fine work done by Vancouverites who are to be commended for taking so many images of their Stanley Cup rioters! Which begs the question, could we have taken more images here during the G20 riot? While civil libertarians may wail, 'there’s nothing illegal about being in the streets', it's just not the same when you are trying to set a Police cruiser on fire! Seeing what Vancouver just witnessed, should it really surprise when it reminds taxpayers of alleged peaceful G20 protesters with various weapons our combined Police forces confiscated.

G20 violence left riot organizers here with a black eye with taxpayers clamoring for a means to make themselves heard; to provide a visible reminder to hooligans that they will be held accountable for their actions after a poll told us that 3 of 4 Torontonians and 2 of 3 Canadians believe police treatment of protesters during the summit was justified; and while a few notables where arrested, precedent offers little comfort to outraged citizens. Of the more than 1,100 people held over the Toronto G20 weekend last summer, only 317 were ever charged. And of those, 58 per cent had their charges withdrawn, stayed or dismissed. The rioters who took part in Vancouver’s violent anti-Olympic protest last year have all, meanwhile, escaped criminal punishment.
In the wake of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riots, B.C.’s new Premier Christy Clark, sounding more like an Old West sheriff was quick to read the public pulse. “We will hold you responsible,” she said the morning after the riot. “You will not be able to hide behind your hoodie or your bandana.” A special team of experienced prosecutors are scheduled to work with Vancouver Police to ensure swift, severe punishments for rioters, including jail time. The Stanley Cup riots touched a raw nerve in Vancouver, where 19 of every 20 residents want the troublemakers prosecuted to the full extent of the law, according to a new poll by Angus Reid.

But what makes Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot unique is citizen response! According to
local news reports, Vancouver police are presently combing through more than one million photos and 1,000 hours of video submitted as evidence following the riot in downtown Vancouver as hundreds of people tore through downtown streets breaking windows, looting stores and setting cars on fire following a huge street gathering that had been watching the Canucks' Stanley Cup loss. In addition, Vancouver police are saying that thousands of images and hours of videos shot during the riot are being circulated on websites specifically designed to get people to turn in any of the rioters they recognize. Some of the arrests have come out of rioters being identified by friends and family members through social media and more are expected. In fact, it was reported that the day after the riot, the Vancouver police department’s web server crashed as up to 2,000 videos, photos and tips poured in.

While this volume of information has been helpful, it is becoming clear that social media, including Twitter and Facebook have been instrumental in bringing Vancouver rioters to justice. Since the Stanley Cup riot, numerous pages such as Facebook riot pics have posted photos of people smashing windows, tipping over urinals and brawling with police. There has also been a move for identification of people who were shown taking part in the riot. There are many public Facebook pages devoted to rioter's actions where thousands of Facebook users, ranging from senior citizens to high school students, have left messages on these pages. While there may be some who think an oppressive Big Brother eye is watching us, the fact remains that social media users give out the minutiae of their lives for free on Twitter and Facebook. Photographs and video footage posted by the public; and too often by the perpetrators themselves have been instrumental in bringing the Vancouver perpetrators to justice. The trend of people on Twitter and Facebook calling on the public to identify criminals in the Vancouver riot is simply an attempt by the community of West Coast social media enthusiasts to embrace a new role in citizen journalism, with the explicit intention of identifying people to create a sense of public safety. Still, some Vancouver rioters are receiving punishment far worse than anything the courts might dole out for their crimes. Outed by their own postings, their friends and even their parents, the young men involved in Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot are finding it necessary to turn themselves in to police. As the number of rioters being identified by social media grows, so does the number of arrests and charges being made by Vancouver police. At last reports, at least six rioters have turned themselves in to the police, including one 17-year-old brought in by his mother. The father of another 17-year-old, a water polo player, has also said his son will cooperate with authorities after images posted on websites show a young man using a rag to set a police car on fire.

Given how social media is integrated into people's lives, many of the individuals identified during the Vancouver riots will not have the option of simply erasing their Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to avoid public disclosure. These tools are so much a part of daily life now that people can no longer separate their private lives from their public lives online. Increasingly, for the younger generation, not having a life online is akin to not having a social life. Over the last decade, notions of privacy have been eroded through social media, and the Vancouver riots show the effects of living in a social media world.

Although Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot may well be the world’s most photographed, some of the hundreds of thousands of images submitted anonymously to Police may not be admissible as evidence. In court, the defense or crown may want to call a witness who took the image to testify. The image of the so-called “kissing couple” offers a perfect example of how deceptive a picture can be without video evidence or witness testimony. Was it staged? What were they doing? Journalists were all over this story until the couple was identified. Further, we may be putting too much faith in facial-recognition software, designed for well-lit, frontal, ID-quality images, not dark, grainy cellphone photos. The young fellow bragging about his alleged exploits on Facebook; apparently admitting to burning a police car and assaulting an officer, may become an example of someone who gets off, unless credible witnesses come forward to testify. Thankfully, Police were able to regain control of these riots before someone was seriously injured or killed but it was a disgusting scene that unfolded for all to see in Vancouver, and for Toronto, too.

Did West Coast social media evolve to create community in response to Toronto's G20 riot! Regardless, the future is here! Is it only a matter of time until Torontonians mimic Vancouverites with large volume image taking using social media as an additional defense when next faced with a gang of hooligans, the likes of which invaded sleepy Toronto during G20?

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