Beyond riots: How social media helped London
The internet community has stepped up to raise awareness and gather donations for victims of rioters.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, or fasting in Ramazan has really gotten you down, you are probably well aware of the rioting going on in London, and are familiar with some of the sorrowful tales of death and destruction that have come out of the still ongoing disturbance.
Triggered by the police killing of a 29 year old English man of color, the riots have been intense enough to stun the world, with English law breakers having taken full advantage of the chaos.
As this map reveals, the criminal activities have spread across England with such ferocity, that Google has now given up on tracking them.
While looking for internet community reactions to the events in England, I found most forum posters to be naturally distraught.
But a 29-year-old resident of London, Simon B, had something somewhat different to say,
“Yeah, it's dumb, but there are underlying reasons for it all, of course. The government seems to be doing everything in its power to enlarge the poverty divide - benefits and services are being massively cut, unemployment is on the rise - all while the PM takes a "budget" holiday in Spain with his family, and flies out his tennis coach on a private jet. I don't agree with the riots, but if you put the poorest, least educated people under pressure for long enough, something like this is bound to happen. At least it makes for entertaining news.”
What I did find heartening, was that some of the internet community rallied to help some of the news making victims. Highlighted by forum threads on popular social websites, donation URLs began to pop up across the internet for some of the sufferers:
1. Ashraf Haziq, a poor Malaysian student in the UK, who was beaten and robbed, has recently had over 7000 pounds raised for his recovery on somethingforashraf.com . This was after countless people watched his ordeal on YouTube:
2. After many watched on YouTube the looting of a Clarence store, some organized to help Siva Kandiah, who had run the establishment for 11 years. With the aid of photos, helpsiva.com has managed to raise nearly 4000 pounds for the man.
3. Finally, the most heartbreaking case for me was that of 89-year-old Aron Bieber*, whose uninsured barbershop had been running for nearly 40 years. As it turned out, the picture of Aron looking absolutely crestfallen touched the hearts of many others across the internet. What started as a forum post on reddit, soon evolved into a donation blog site. KeepAaronCutting.blogspot.com
On the website, Aron is quoted as saying,
"I will probably have to close because I haven’t got insurance and I can’t afford the repairs,”
Fortunately for Aron, the website has already generated over 20,000 pounds in donations, which hopefully should be enough for him to rebuild his business!
Aron’s story also touched 21 year old game developer Kenney Vleugels, from the Netherlands, who happens to make games for RoundGames.com.
His side scrolling Flash based game, London Looters, has already found itself mentioned in popular news media, like Kotaku as well as The Huffington Post. The game itself is a simple side scrolling actioner, where you must protect your business from looters. As a former games journalist, I was intrigued by the positive attention London Looters was receiving, and spoke with Kenney earlier today. When asked what drove him to develop the game, he said:
“I really feel for the shop owners and business in the riot areas. All those innocent people got their property demolished for not doing anything wrong. I found a photograph of Aaron Biber, a 89-year old barbershop owner whos[e] shop got ruined. It really touched me and I felt I should create awareness for this.”
Regarding reactions to his game, he said:
“I've got both positive and negative. The positive reactions are great, people understand that all awareness, even a simple videogame, is good. People enjoyed the game, liked the cause and thought it was pretty clever to put the riot in a whole different perspective. I've also received negative reactions though but I fully understand those. There are people killed and injured during the riots which is horrible, thus a videogame like this which might look like a joke or fun could possibly hurt people involved. I'm sorry if I did hurt anyone with the videogame, that was probably the last thing I wanted to do.”
Seeing how effectively the internet has rallied for the cause of London, I hope that perhaps we too can organize ourselves to aid those in need in Pakistan.
*Aron Bieber has no relation to Justin Bieber, who people wouldn’t be too bothered about, if looted.