It's easy for pundits to scoff at the credibility of "citizen journalism" in social media.
But for anyone following the incredible riot in downtown Vancouver last night after the Boston Bruins trounced the Canucks, it was difficult to deny the value of platforms like Twitter, where people there, in the midst of the mayhem, were publishing hundreds of up-close photos and videos in real-time for the world to see.
Of course, it's not exactly something you want the world to see: wildly drunk teenage males kicking in the windows and burning the awning of the historic Hudsons Bay building; black-masked vandalistic rabble rousers touting fire extinguishers spraying innocent bystanders; swarms of maddened men looting armfuls of goods from London Drugs and Louis Vuitton; the beautiful glass architecture of Chapters being punctured by various metal and concrete projectiles; flipped cars and flipped porta-potties; burning cars and dumpsters; and an outbreak of vicious fights and stabbings.
Shameful. Disgraceful. A giant black mark on what was, only one year ago, the Olympic City. The reputation of millions irreversibly damaged by a select few.
But social media, at the very least, will assist in the delivery of justice.
First, it delivers awareness. It amplifies the magnitude of the event, applying additional pressure to organizations such as the Vancouver Police Department to step up their efforts to find and apprehend the culprits. Second, it creates an open, public, social platform in which millions of Metro Vancouverites can share their stories, photos, and videos, to help identify criminals and piece together the many puzzles of the night.
With #CanucksRiot and #Riot as Vancouver's top two trending stories, and the rest of the list dominated by Future Shop, Sears, and London Drugs—and not for good reason—Twitter keeps the dialogue flowing in two manners: it helps the rest of the world recognize that these insane drunkards do not represent Vancouver or Canada, and it helps
Twitter has been used effectively in other riots, of course—think Egypt—but it's tragic and unfortunate that this riot isn't to bring an end to an unjust leader, but simply the result of unruly troublemakers looking for mischief.
Social media certainly cannot repair the millions of dollars of damage done to Vancouver's usually beautiful and peaceful downtown core.
But it can ease the damage dealt to our reputation and help bring justice to the criminals.
And at this point, we need all the help we can with that.
• chriskahle: The Bay downtown is apparently on fire. This is getting really sad.
Editor's Update 1: Facebook has rallied supporters as well through various pages.
Editor's Update 2: #Thisismyvancouver has now started trending as hundreds of volunteers, who were nowhere near last night's riot, have banded together to clean up the mess and "reclaim our city"—demonstrating, once again, the power of social media when it counts most.
Editor's Update 3: Brock Anton is now trending on Twitter nationally after posting a Facebook status that brags about how he punched a cop and burned cars, making the news and "history." Rumours suggest he has since been arrested. This points to the stupidity of some social media users, and the intelligence of others to pit it against the former.