Monday, August 8, 2011

Private Messaging Network Is Said to Link London Rioters

From New York Times Blogs:

The authorities in London arrested scores of people late Sunday and early Monday in hopes of heading off further violence after this weekend’s street riots, as evidence emerged suggesting that the unrest had been organized, at least in part, over private online messaging networks.



Many, including the police, looked initially to Twitter and Facebook to find participants and organizers of the violence. But Jonathan Akwue, a media strategist in London, was among the first to write about the possible role BlackBerry Messenger, commonly known as BBM, played in organizing rioters.



As he explained on his blog, there are good reasons the service may have been adopted by those on London’s margins:

BBM as it is known, is an instant messenger system that has become popular for three main reasons: it’s fast (naturally), it’s virtually free, and unlike Twitter or Facebook, it’s private.

BlackBerry recognized the appeal of their products to the urban market and has had a long association with Jay-Z in the States. In the U.K., they recently hosted a “secret gig” in Shoreditch Town Hall featuring Tinie Tempah, Wretch 32 and Devlin.
BBM is prevalent enough, according to the British Daily Telegraph, that the last message sent by Mark Duggan, whose deadly shooting by police set off Saturday’s unrest, was sent using the service. “The Feds are following me,” he wrote to his girlfriend, the paper reported.



Mr. Akwue also points out that it would not be the first time that the private communications allowed by BBM, which are not easily intercepted by police, have been connected to criminality.



In an interview with the BBC, a senior police officer said online tools were responsible for the violence on Sunday, though he did not name any service in particular: “Social media and other methods have been used to organize these levels of greed and criminality,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh.



Mr. Akwue’s post was quickly picked up by the technology blog Tech Crunch and the British media, though early in the day, none had provided the actual content of the BBM messages supposedly rocketing around the private network.



Later, however, The Guardian’s Paul Lewis produced the lengthy text of what he said was “the main message that was being shared” by would-be looters and sympathizers on Sunday.



“Everyone in edmonton enfield woodgreen everywhere in north link up at enfield town station 4 o clock sharp!!!!” the message, which runs well over 140 characters, read in part. “Keep sending this around to bare man, make sure no snitch boys get dis!!! What ever ends your from put your ballys on link up and cause havic, just rob everything. Police can’t stop it. Dead the fires though!! Rebroadcast!!!!!” [Typos and British slang in original.]



Mr. Lewis said that messages were currently being sent around trying to organize further havoc-wreaking for Monday night but did not give details beyond that they were focused on six neighborhoods of London.



Indeed, by the late afternoon there were reports of clashes between gangs of young people and police in the North London area of Hackney:



Cop car bring smashed with sticks, rocks, glass flyingMon Aug 08 15:43:22 via Twitter for BlackBerry®
Rocks being thrown at police nowMon Aug 08 15:41:51 via Twitter for BlackBerry®
Another BBM message, said to have been sent around on Sunday and quoted by The Guardian, read: “Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!),” the message read, in part. “SALUT! if you see a fed … SHOOT!”

On Monday, Research In Motion, the company behind BlackBerry, appeared to acknowledge the use of its BBM service during the weekend’s violence, posting a regretful message to the company’s official British Twitter account:



We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.Mon Aug 08 14:06:19 via CoTweet
And, I can not vouch for the veracity of this image, but supposedly, this is a message asking for help in the fomenting of rioting for the purposes of criminal activity.





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