Where were you when the internet took over the world? A exaggeration perhaps. It’s no judgement day a la Terminator, but the world has suddenly gotten a whole lot smaller, as close as our iPhone screens.
It's been interesting watching the evolution of social media the last couple of months. From the voices of the common people crying out for freedom, to the attention-seeker fuelled riots of Vancouver, each has been a wakeup call to the power of this form of expression.
The signs were there…
Three years from the first tweet to the billionth, and now, it only takes one week for one billion tweets, usually about the most innocuous of subjects.
The flash mobs were there. At first they were groups of bored kids wanting some attention, learning how to coordinate groups of strangers into committing random acts of fun and entertainment, complete with amateur video coverage.
It seemed that social media was the domain of the young and perpetually bored.
Until Vancouver, when the promise of what it could be was fulfilled in a horrifying way. We saw the young and perpetually bored, no longer bored. They were smashing windows, looting, setting cars on fire and clashing with police.
It was only a small group of people who were responsible for what happened. The rest were bystanders with a phone and a will to use it, capturing the moments and sending it to the world; attention-seekers colliding with the living social media, igniting a flame.
The story could have ended there, or began; a cautionary tale, full of signs and warnings.
But that is not where the story finished, because in the aftermath of the riots, before the debris was swept from the streets, the social media responded again; not with mindless violence, but with dignity, responsibility and hope.
Before the last bottle was thrown, two Facebook campaigns had already started, one calling on residents to clean up the city after the riots ("Post Riot Clean-Up — Let's help Vancouver") and another encouraging people to post pictures of rioters so they could be identified and held accountable.
In less than 12 hours, there had been over 20,000 hits on the sites.
As a result, thousands of people were moved to show up the next day with gloves and brooms, ready to get down on their hands and knees to clean up the streets and repair the reputation of a broken city. On the boards covering smashed up storefronts, plywood poets left messages of apology and encouragement, reclaiming the city for the true Vancouverites. Post-it notes of thanks were left on police cars.
Less than 48 hours after the violence, many businesses were up and running thanks to the overwhelming response. Businesses handed out bottles of water to volunteers and The Bay held a pancake breakfast to thank all those who helped clean up and those who helped protect the city.
This is the power of social media. It doesn’t just belong to the young and ignorant. On the day after the riots, it truly showed what it was made of.