Like the rest of my city, and, sadly, the world, I watched in horror last night as things went from bad to worse. It started with our beloved home team, the Vancouver Canucks, losing the Stanley Cup to Boston in Game 7. No sooner had we begun to deal with the fact that it might be another 40 years before we were in this position again, when some yahoos in the public viewing area outside our Library and Post Office started hurling bottles and debris at the big screen. Then someone set a stuffed bear (the Bruin’s mascot) on fire. And things just went downhill from there. Lighting a stuffed bear on fire led to flipping and smashing cars and lighting them on fire. That led to smashing store windows and looting all the way down the street, and clashes with police and tear gas.
I was watching all of this from the safety of my home, just over the bridge from the hot zone. Our local CTV affiliate had cameras and reporters on the ground, and were showing the action as it happened, live. This feed was picked up and broadcast around the world, and our dirty laundry was on display for, it seemed, the entire universe. The story was picked up by The Huffington Post and Mashable, and made front-page news as far away as New Zealand.
Throughout the night, I heard numerous references to “the role Social Media played” in this debacle. There will no doubt be an inquiry into the events of last night, and I will leave the reasons why up to the professionals to sort that out. No doubt it was a complex amalgam of things.
Was Social Media one of them? Most likely, yes.
On the news, I kept seeing the same scenes over and over: young men (primarily), late teens, early twenties, no doubt fueled by alcohol, taking photos of burning cars, and putting themselves in danger to take photos of themselves in front of burning cars, on light standards, and all kinds of other crazy shit (sorry, that’s just the best word right now). Every time they cut to the reporter on the ground, crazed yahoos would poke their faces into the shot behind the reporters’ security guard and yell “Wahoooo!” and the sign of the horns. Many were on cel phones, and you could see them saying “I’m on TV!!”
They seemed to be seeking notoriety at any cost, in a world where you can become a YouTube sensation over night.
It made me so sad. The entire scene was heartbreaking. I love this city. I have traveled our nation in its entirety many times, and I’ve lived on both coasts. But as an adult, I choose to live in Vancouver, despite the fact that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, because there are so many amazing things about this city. To see a few “bad apples” create such negative image four our city, which recently hosted the Olympics with great success was devastating.
In fact, only 48 hours before, I was in that exact spot where the riot started, watching Game 6 with Lois Dawson. It was calm, peaceful, and completely civilized, even though the Canucks also lost.
And for the record, I am a huge Social Media enthusiast. I will stop to take pictures of interesting things and tweet them, or post them to Facebook. But had I been downtown last night, I would have gotten the heck out of Dodge ASAP. I, in fact, only know of one person who stayed downtown to do “citizen journalism.” Everyone else I knew was fleeing the scene, and we were all checking in with each other via text, Facebook and Twitter to make sure everyone was safe.
That was one of the positive ways people were using Social Media last night. Within two hours of the beginning of the riot (in fact, it wasn’t over yet), a Facebook event to clean up the city the next day sprang up, and had enlisted, within short order, nearly 3,000 people who said they would help. Less than 24 hours after, that number verges on 20,000.
People were posting photographs of the kids who were doing damage, smashing and looting on Facebook and Twitter, to see if they could be identified and brought to justice. Those scores of photos will eventually be handed over to the Vancouver Police Department, and hopefully justice will be served.
Here’s my Vancouver Riot Social Media help story:
I noticed that one of my Facebook friends had gone to see Wicked at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, which was literally in the eye of the storm. He posted to a status update that they were locked in the theatre for their own safety. I tweeted this information, and it was met with relief by John, or @marqueswinecell, who had a loved one inside. I was able to keep him up-to-date by passing on info from my friend, and everything turned out well. His last tweet to me? “You saved my wife huge angst.”
Today the clean-up began. Eager volunteers swept and picked up debris. Swarms of people wrote messages of hope and support on the boarded-up windows of stores that had been broken into and looted. Repairing this damage will take much longer than just replacing windows, however.
When Simon and I used to do workshops together, he had this great saying (why does Simon always have all the great sayings??): Social Media is a tool. You need to know how to use a tool correctly, or else it won’t get the job done. Or, you may end up hurting yourself or others.
And it’s true. Last night, Social Media got a bad name because of the role it played. But it was also used to do so much good. I guess it just depends upon the minds and hands who wield it.