Monday, 21 November 2011

Will West Coast social media invade Toronto at the break-up of Camp St. James?

November 21, 2011,

Will West Coast social media invade Toronto at the break-up of Camp St. James?

Or to put it more succinctly, as the midnight deadline for eviction of the campers creeps ever closer, will Torontonians be there to assist our peace officers should the eviction be challenged? 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! While civil libertarians may wail, 'there’s nothing illegal about being in the streets', it's different when you are trying to set a Police cruiser on fire! 

Listening to the rhetoric coming out of our park since the judge told them to go, like "Come hell or high water, this is our park," said long-time occupier Thomas Zaugg. "This is my home," as reported in the Sun or as Andrew Johnston, who had been camping in the park since day one told the Toronto Star that he would peacefully resist any attempts by police to clear the park. “The only way I’m leaving is in a pair of handcuffs,” he vowed.

Threats like this are a direct affront to the judge and seeing what Vancouver 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 thugs and hooligans that they will be held accountable for their actions after a post-riot Angus Reid 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, this offered 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 And of those, well over half had their charges withdrawn, stayed or dismissed. On the other hand, the rioters who took part in Vancouver’s violent riot last spring are slowly dealing with their 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 working 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 another poll by Angus Reid.

But what makes Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot unique from the G20 riot 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.

There has also been a move for identification of people who were shown taking part in the riot and while this volume of information has been helpful for the Police investigation, it is becoming clear that social media; including Twitter and Facebook have not only been instrumental in bringing Vancouver rioters to justice, it also provided a means for Vancouverites to participate in justice.

Since the Stanley Cup riot, numerous pages such as Facebook riot pics have posted photos of folks smashing windows, tipping over urinals and brawling with peace officers. 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, many young men involved in Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot found 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.

Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot may well be the world’s most photographed. 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 during G20, too.

Did West Coast social media evolve to create community in response to Toronto's G20 riot! Regardless, the future is here! 

                                  Ezra Levant checking out another empty tent in St. James Park!
                                         Ezra Levant confronting a camper at St. James Park!

Is it only a matter of time until Torontonians mimic Vancouverites with large volume image taking using social media as an additional defense should the judges eviction be challenged resulting in violence directed at our bylaw and peace officers, the likes of which invaded sleepy Toronto during G20?


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