G20 and Social Media Anarchy

Is this Democracy in Action?

It is a sad night in my city. Tonight, Toronto is facing a battle with a group of about 300 self-described anarchists called the Black Bloc. Stores are being vandalized, police cars are being taken over and lit on fire. It’s an awful mess.

All in the name of protest for the G20. The reasons for the protest are too many to mention. For some it is about human rights, others its’ the environment, social justice, spending, the G20 meetings themselves — you name it, there is probably some group trying to get its voice heard here.

Unlike any previous protest — even the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh last year — this one will be known for being televised.

And photographed.

And blogged about (like this).

And networked. A lot.

Indeed, I’ve never before seen such citizen journalism in action. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has both their own reporters and readers/viewers tweeting about what is happening in a live feed. The Torontoist blog has enlisted many of its readers as roving reporters as well.

Indeed, Torontoist represents the true social media perspective by asking readers to:

HOW TO SEND US UPDATES We want your G20 stories, photos, links, and tips. Email G20@torontoist.com, send updates to @torontoist on Twitter, or submit your photos to Torontoist’s Flickr pool.

Add to that Twitter and Facebook, and I feel like I’m right in the mix, and that is part of the problem.

I like the fact that I can know what is going on in my city without having to risk my health or witness the hatred, crime and injustice being committed by a small band of goons who are subverting the good intentions and genuine voice of the protesters. But then, it also means that I’m not able to stop them and, because so many others are busy capturing this on video or camera, they aren’t either.

Scanning through the video online of the protests I couldn’t help but notice how many people were getting into the middle of things with their cameras. They were, in some of the videos, clearly between a justifiably agitated police presence and an equally frustrated group of protesters who want to ensure that they communicate their perspective to the G2o leaders and the public. This new paparazzi culture can be seen across the videos, including this one of two police cars being ignited at the heart of the city’s financial district. In this case, the cameraman could at least appreciate that the cars might blow up, but he was one of the few.

Beyond the carelessness of these new ‘journalists’ comes the problems with a lack of training in journalism, which is un-critical self-expression to an audience. I was told that many businesses on Yonge Street (Toronto’s central street) were ‘destroyed’ by goons — at least according to many tweets and posts. After coming home from another event I read this and thought I’d see for myself what happened and it appears that these stores had their windows broken and that’s about it. Yes, they were damaged, but destroyed?

The whole thing was captured on film in fact! Yet, it gets reported badly. Regular journalists do this, but it seems that citizen journalists using social media do it badly — a lot.

I don’t know what this day means for social media and citizen journalism, but I know I am not happy with the way things have turned out. As you can see from the previous clip, there were a lot of people trying to ‘get the story’ or capture it on film and very few trying to stop the violence. Indeed, social media by way of making these acts broadcast and commented on so quickly by so many may have provided the very encouragement that these Black Bloc folk need and want.
But because so many were so quick to capture this, they disengaged from the very acts they hoped to capture and as a result, there is a lot of damage to a city in terms of its property, but also to its soul.

What I’m not sure is what about the events of this day upsets the most.

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