Riots… the greatest viral campaign of 2011.

A riot is the language of the unheard – Martin Luther King Jr.

In August 2011 riots ripped through major cities in the UK & the best viral campaign of the year was created. What do we now know about the rioters and looters? Are they a criminal, feral underclass OR victims of socio-economic blight getting their own back on the rest of society? Fluke organizers or the new experts in 140 character communication. Rather than shouting through a megaphone — as in the infamous 1985 riots on the Broadwater Estate in Tottenham — today’s rabble rousers organized online and with the aid of their iPhones and BlackBerrys. As the riots unfolded, they turned to Social Media to encourage violence & organize hordes of youth into areas of the cities. They communicated digitally and efficiently and in ways that every advertising agency in the world only dream about executing successfully.

If any proof was needed that Generation Y, Generation We, Generation Sell, the Millennials, Generation Next, the Net Generation & Echo Boomers should be running the communication strategies in advertising and digital media then last year it was given to us on a big flaming plate. The demographic cohort following Generation X proved without a shadow of a doubt that with their thumbs and fingers they are the greatest organizers and communicators on our planet at the moment.

Youth custody is failing young people who want to change their ways – Mark Johnson

Characteristics of the generation vary by region, depending on social and economic conditions. However, it is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. In most parts of the world its upbringing was marked by an increase in a neoliberal approach to politics and economics. The 2007–2012 global financial crisis has had a major impact on this generation because it has caused historically high levels of unemployment among young people. This problem is particularly acute in Europe, and has led to speculation about possible long term economic and social damage to this generation. They want to start reaping what has been sown over 3 decades of creating grotesquely unequal society, with the alienated young copying ethos of looting bankers in their own special brand of communication. But they also have the firepower and the passion to fight back. They just need to be tapped and employed by we the communication makers. We talk to them but we don’t talk to them in their own language.

So what happened then?

  • 6 U.K. cities where rioting broke out
  • 1,051 Arrests in London alone as of Aug. 12
  • 591 Number of people charged in London
  • 11 Age of the youngest person arrested
  • 5 Number of fatalities
  • 16 Civilians officially reported as injured in the riots
  • 186 Police officers injured in the riots
  • 6,000 Number of police on duty in the areas affected by the riots on Aug. 8
  • 16,000 Police on duty in those areas on Aug. 9
  • 2,169 Calls received by the London Fire Brigade on Aug. 8
  • 20,800 Emergency calls received by the London Metropolitan Police Service on Aug. 8 (a 400 per cent increase over the average volume)

The figures are a devastating indictment of the way society has failed some of the poorest and most disadvantaged younger members of society.

The “criminality” vs “ideology” argument goes like this. These riots are fundamentally criminal acts, an opportunity for a criminal class to act with impunity. BUT, so the counter argument goes, these crimes have an undercurrent of ideology. They are the voice of the unheard. Of course they are largely criminal acts. But the bigger story is the dwindling of confidence in the idea of progress. The idea of progress is as fundamental to a society based on science and technology as the idea of liberty was to the enlightenment.

TWITTER: Everyone up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 50 [police]. I hope one dead tonight

TWITTER: Be inspired by the scenes in #tottenham, and rise up in your neighborhood. 100 people in every area = the way we can beat the feds.

Jody McIntyew was forcibly removed from his wheelchair by police during London demonstrations last year – he asked his 9,000 Twitter followers to spread unrest across the city. He has ‘followers’. The police forget about that.

People were referring to BBM as a network where they were telling people where they were going. References to the Tottenham riots on BBM began cropping up two days before violence broke out.

There’s a recruitment broadcast going around on BBM to gather hoodrats to start a riot. Just received 3 BBM Messages detailing a new organised ‘Riot’ plan complete with ‘Loot Rules’. This is the start of something new. #Anarchy

Some 90% of those brought before the courts were male and about half were aged under 21. The 18-30 market are themselves, gatekeepers and experts on leveraging communications and messaging… In an age of social media in which disgruntled youth are frequently more skilled with smart phones than are the adults who police them, authorities believe handheld technologies may have helped those trying to instigate violence to spread their message. You’ve got to admire their resourcefulness.

62% of youth brand and technology decisions are influenced by friends and family. Other decisions are no different. By 2013, Earned Media will replace paid as the #1 driver of youth consumer behavior for smartphones. Who understands earned media better than the people creating the most powerful messages? Brand choice is shaped by Paid vs Earned Media splits. Research data shows key “Beachheads” of customer support for brands in specific age groups not found in rival brands. Youth spend just short of £200 billion on mobile services annually. That’s one pound in every ten of their disposable income going to a mobile telecoms company. They get it. They understand it. They also understand how to use it to mobilize and rise up.

13% of those arrested were gang members (but in London the figure was 19%).

In terms of ethnicity, 42% of those charged were white, 46% black, 7% Asian and 5% were classified as ‘other’.

In this same demographic group only 1/3 of the youth generation trust advertising or traditional top-down messaging – preferring peers to guide their choices rather than traditional marketing messages.

For many people who were rioting, that week was a rejection of the future that was laid out for them… so I say why not employ them? With support obviously… they need proper integrating and acclimating. Unlike most people, some of those rioting and looting had no stake in conformity, those things that normally constrain people are not there. But they have the will and the communication methods that we in advertising and communication would LOVE to tap and bottle. A generation bred on a diet of excessive consumerism and bombarded by advertising has been unleashed… now we have to make them the arbiters.

They feel they can rationalize it by targeting big corporations. There is a sense that the companies have lots of money, while they have very little.

Passion is the mob of the man, that commits a riot upon his reason. – William Penn

Most advertising agencies prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees and a liberal arts background – preferably in advertising, journalism, public relations, literature, sociology, philosophy, or psychology. However, after fifteen years working across the big players I realised that the greatest skill in an agency is passion and vision. A channeled desire, defies and beats any recognised degree. Strong leaders and mentors trump all teachers and lecturers. We can create a new system where people are empowered to learn and improve.

The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.

Some say we need leaders in Government and the tech community to give us a vision of where science and technology is headed, and how it makes us better as a society and a people, and to articulate why that is an inclusive vision. I say we need to ask and empower the people who fight for their voice.

These kids are called the hardest to reach, what we’ve found is that they’re really easy to reach. All you’ve got to do is have a really honest approach, and for them to see transparently that there’s an opportunity to be part of something. mark johnson

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