Crisis point: London Riots


This is an article by David Clare.
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London is a vibrant, exciting and energetic place to live. Many graduates will move to the ‘big smoke’ in search of the dream job, with numerous top PR agencies based in London. I’ve been living in London for just over a year now, and have fully enjoyed every moment of it – that was until just two nights ago.

The London riots, which are now spreading beyond the capital, have caused unfathomable damage to buildings that are not only home to people’s livelihood, but to their families. People have been forced to leave their homes, businesses forced to shut and travel disruption is widespread. But this is only the short-term damage; the scars of the London riots will be visible for much longer.

Politics

The reputation of the Met police has come into question already recently, with the lack of investigation into the hacking scandal. Now the discussion is over their handling of the riots. Every move made by the police will be questioned. It is an incredibly difficult situation for the police: use too much force and there will be outrage, use too little and, yes, more outrage.

Communication is extremely important right now. The acting Police Commissioner, Tim Godwin, has done a good job in communication with the public, as you would imagine. However the response from Mayor Boris Johnson is not what you’d imagine. At first he stated he would not return from holiday, which set up rival and former Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, to win back some political points and tear apart Boris’ decision to not return. Boris has now returned to London, as has David Cameron – who has decided to recall parliament due to the matter.

The politics of handling the crisis is very difficult to manage. There will always be criticism – this cannot be stopped. But it can be managed. While obviously promoting the positive messages, public relations officers will be identifying pockets on negativity; monitoring them and preparing responses to directly engage and ultimately turn the negative comments around. With high volumes of buzz online, it is important for PROs to act quickly, and take any negative discussion offline.

Technology

It is communication itself that has played a key part in organising the riots, at least that is what the media says. Twitter and BlackBerry have been named as networks being used by rioters, with criticism over the fact this is made possible and cannot be stopped.

Let’s take a step back. Twitter is clearly reporting the riots, it is being used as a tool to find out where the riots are and people are using it to check the riots are not heading their way. Last night I relied on a live stream to check rioters were not heading towards my home. It is an essential tool and is being used against the riots, while anyone using Twitter to boast about their swag is clearly going to be caught.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) on the other hand is private and offline. The ability to create groups and send messages privately has (anecdotally) been the method of communication for the rioters. This has led to criticism of BlackBerry for not switching off the service, or searching through messages to find who is responsible.

Again, let’s take a step back. BBM is not unique – most phones have this kind of service integrated, or apps capable of private messages. There will always be a method to communicate privately – have we already forgotten about that old thing called email? And to suggest BlackBerry should search through the private messages of all London BBM users is quite unrealistic. Imagine the backlash from investigating people’s private messages – full body scanners I airports prevent terrorism, yet there is a huge debate on whether they should be used simply because it is to invading.

Boroughs

Specific areas of London have done a lot to build up their image in recent years. I live in Brixton, an amazing borough of London to live in – the smell of incense fills the streets, preachers recite the Bible at the top of their lungs, reggae music fills the market down Electric Avenue and the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafts through Brixton village. It is a far cry from the Brixton riots in ’81.

The same can be said for Clapham – this is a beautiful area for Londoners to live and spend time in. The common is beautiful in the summer and people come in droves to spend the day by the lake with a bottle of champagne and their friends – the perfect British summer, unlike what we saw last night.

The reputation of these places will hopefully be largely unharmed. People understand it is a minority causing the damage and the clean-up operation is testament to the community’s ability to bounce back, but what about the overall reputation for London? What will you now think of the capital city? How do you think this will affect tourism and the Olympics?

Potential students and recent graduates who may be looking for work may think twice about moving to London. If you are in this situation, then just remember London has many pros and cons, just like any city.  And this kind of disruption is not even close to representing life in London.

Behind The Spin hopes readers in affected areas in London, and other cities experiencing riots, will stay safe and take extra precaution when leaving their homes. Let us know your thoughts on the riots and experiences in the comments below.

If you’d like to join the clean-up operation, head over to www.riotcleanup.co.uk and get involved.

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