Posted 10th August 2011 | By ExtraMile

Twitter and Facebook have been used by strangers to organise a variety of events for good (see #gettheashestotheashes and #alicebucketlist but the recent events in London and across Britain have led to a lot of criticism of the social networks for their inability to restrict this power to good acts only.

There have been calls for a Twitter and Facebook blackout (along with the BlackBerry Messaging system) but is this necessary? Yes Twitter and Facebook were used to organise some of the riots which isnt a great PR story for either of them but the police are now using the networks to identify rioters, looters and those inciting violence and taking the opportunity to punish them (there have already been two arrests in Scotland and I would expect to see many more over the coming days).

Having used Twitter and Facebook over the past few days to follow the riots I have only seen one pro-riot comment. Nearly all of the other comments about the riots have been condemning them, organising clean-up campaigns (giving birth to the rather delightful hashtag #riotwombles) and asking people to check on the vulnerable in their neighbourhood.

There was also an outpouring of support for the Police Service across the country, with people trying to help as much as they could, including setting up #catchalooter (and the accompanying website) to try and track down some of the criminals.

The social networks were used by those who were concerned about what was going on; people checking on, not only friends and family members, but also their followers. Yes they may not know each other in the real world but there was genuine concern for anybody caught up in this.

And this coming together and organisation of acts of kindness fostered a feeling of community that is perhaps lacking in the real world. A community that came together, not just to condemn the acts of a minority of their members but also, to organise a recovery effort and support people through this crisis. If we begin to shutdown the social networks when there are crises like this, is the local community strong enough to organise such philanthropic acts? My guess is that it isnt.

And that is why these social networks can be vital for local businesses. It used to be that the local pub and corner shop were the lifeblood of the community, where everybody got to know each other, caught up with the gossip and gained a sense of belonging in their community but that is no longer the case. The social networks are re-creating that sense of community and your business needs to be part of it, otherwise youll end up like the Flying Horse or the Weatherfield Arms, often mentioned but never visited.

Ean from ExtraMile Communications Ltd in Eccleshall, Staffordshire.

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