Perspective hidden by the smoke

Last night was a terrible night for many in Britain’s cities. Fire, chaos, rioting and destruction turned a beautiful summer’s evening into an orgy of fear and vandalism. Others, far closer to the action than me, will comment on the causes of these disturbances. Others, whose churches and parishes are in the areas affected, will describe their holistic Gospel response to such news as this.

My concern, once again, is about the misinterpretation which seems to drive some reporting of the events . The story of   Tahrir Square back in January was not a story about social media, but about political upheaval.  The legal arguments about super-injunctions in the UK in May was not a story about Twitter, but about liberty and privacy. Similarly, last night’s events were surely not a kind of  social media Top Trumps, where Blackberry tops Twitter on account of encryption capability?

Of course handheld communications and social media make it easier to draw a crowd – whether for an innocuous flash mob or the kind of mobs unleashed last night. Not only that, but social media makes it easier to build a wave of anxious anticipation on the one hand, and sensible precaution on the other. Be that as it may, they are not the story. The story is about anger, selfishness and greed far more than it is about Twitter, Facebook or BBM.

If we fail to see this then we end up like the man in the photograph below – apparently photographing a smashed window in Birmingham as if it were an abstract pattern. For the owner of the business in question it is far from abstract, and the dissemination of images of the broken window is the least of his or her worries.

Let the pundits continue with their discussions. Meanwhile, social media should do what it is good at – creating and expanding community, with excellent practical responses such as