Social media case study: the Stanley Cup hockey riots

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When the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks and became winners of the Stanley Cup earlier this month no-one expected social media to help resolve the violent riots that broke out on the Canadian streets.

As one journalist aptly described it:

“Watching the post-Stanley Cup apocalypse was like staring at a car wreck. It was hard not to look. Hard not to get enraged at the burning, breaking, looting, violence and mayhem perpetrated by the worst kind of brainless, destructive losers.” Robert Marshall, Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For the last 15 years or so there have been a lot of riots in Canada caused by the hockey. However, this year, Canadian citizens had enough and decided to take it upon themselves to name and shame the alleged perpetrators and the most successful way of achieving this has been social media.

The use of social media sparked off when the mayor of Vancouver requested that any information on the riots and the people involved should be passed forward to the police.  Ever since then, a number of blogs and Facebook groups have been very active, with lots of angry citizens posting pictures and tagging the rioters that they recognise. There are already upwards of 100,000 people on some of these Facebook sites and according to various sources over 2,000 pictures of rioters have been posted.

So why have the Stanley cup hockey riots resulted in such a successful use of social media? The reasons that social media has been so effective in this situation is because:

  1. It is great for bringing a  group of people together around a common agenda (catching rioters that have trashed their community).
  2. People are really engaged when they are contributing to a good cause.
  3. It bridges different social circles - in this case, using social connections to extend the reach of the photos increases the chances of someone being able to identify a rioter.
  4. Functionality is simple to use yet effective - you only need to tag photos.
  5. It happens very quickly and it was a very cost effective medium for reaching a large audience.

There has been some criticism about whether its right to use social media for this activity - some people have criticised the various online groups because they have turned social media into a surveillance tool as opposed to a communications tool. The public ‘name and shame’ element has also been treated with reproach because of the potential to erode communities offline.

While I definitely disagree with using  social media in a “big brother” type fashion, photos and video footage would be used to identify people anyway and given the nature of the situation I think that it’s a very effective example of how social media charactaristics can an existing task more efficient.

What do you think?

Articles relating to the riots and involvement of social media for helping identify potential perpetrators:

  • Vancouver riots: The shame and the blame spread online
  • Go get ‘em, Vancouver Hockey rioters deserve jail
  • Vancouver: Riots after Canucks’ Stanley Cup defeat
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3 Comments

  1. Dan @ InSync Marketing:

    It’s a tough one,

    We need to preserve the public’s right to privacy online, but absolutely, if people are breaking the law, why not name and shame?

  2. Abi:

    People who are involved in this sort of activity should be aware that their actions have repercussions. We live in a ‘standby’ society where people are afraid to help others or standup in what they believe in for fear of reprisal.

    I appreciate that it does open up a tricky debate, but with the way people are using social media changing day-on-day, I think that if it can help make this first step to building stronger communities with less crime, this can only be a good thing - it’s one of those cases of, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.

    One thing that does worry me in this however, is the perceived anonymity of the people who are naming and shaming, and the reality that no one is truly anonymous on the internet.

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