Twitter didn't fuel the Tottenham riot | Reni Eddo-Lodge

Social networks did play a role during this weekend's events – just not the way Daily Mail journalists think

Although I was 200 miles away at the time, I found out my local community was being burned, looted and decimated when I saw Tottenham trending on Twitter. I wasn't the only one. Tottenham resident Charlotte Haynes told me she'd been "following the #Tottenham hash tag" for up-to-date news since violence broke out in the streets.

Once again social media reporting overtook the news as residents of Tottenham took to the streets alongside journalists to document the damage. An alternative narrative emerged on Twitter and Facebook as rioting spread, and it proved starkly different to what official representatives were saying on our television screens.

One strong rumour that gained ground is that of a 16-year-old girl being beaten by police soon after the peaceful protest ended at Tottenham police station. An eyewitness told BBC News that "a young female had approached the police standing line and she was set upon by police and their batons". Videos uploaded on YouTube from in and around the area further reinforce this rumour, documenting people caught up in the fray, shouting in disgust. The incident has been dismissed as unsubstantiated and consequently downplayed in media coverage. However, video footage – though unclear – has been uploaded, making such claims credible.

This social media explosion isn't just manifesting itself on the internet, with BlackBerry's free Messenger service (BBM) appearing to serve as a powerful tool. The Daily Mail pinpointed Twitter as fanning the flames, but its journalists couldn't be more mistaken.

While Twitter spread fast-moving news, BBM spread statements and pictures that documented criminal activity. Twitter, by and large, is a public affair, while BBM is private and only accessible to people with BlackBerry mobiles. This is a social network that has an increased privacy by default and a level of anonymity that doesn't come with Twitter. While the latter is being used to expose people who have looted, the former is becoming an instrument to show off ill-gotten gains.

It was social media and word of mouth that informed both current and past residents of the area exactly of what was happening. While the television broadcast images of burned buildings and cars, Tottenham's new citizen journalists captured the full extent of the damage, reaching the corners that the press couldn't. But with amateur reporting comes amateur commentary, and suddenly all have declared themselves experts on the area.

Having grown up in Tottenham, I'm deeply saddened that it has taken a riot to highlight the complex problems that blight the area. Yesterday on BBC News's rolling coverage, a local shopkeeper described the scenes as "US-style inequality". This is an inequality that has persisted ever since I took up residence in Tottenham aged seven, and the kind of inequality that went largely ignored. Tensions between the people and the police have always been known. Yesterday youth worker Symeon Brown perfectly articulated this tension, stating on BBC News that "there is a sense that the police are not for us". It has taken a riot to put Tottenham's problems on the national agenda.

The people who have looted should not be romanticised, but neither should they be demonised. Tottenham is one of the most deprived areas in London, and this opportunistic looting reflects this fact more starkly than ever before. However, a detailed analysis of the socioeconomic status of the area will not provide comfort for the people who have lost their livelihoods and homes. David Lammy MP's emotional warning to opportunistic outsiders on yesterday's news didn't get to the root of the reason why outside troublemakers were coming in.

Local MPs such as Stella Creasy are on the ground, using Twitter to their advantage and posting messages of support. The mayor of London remains absent. Yesterday Boris Johnson told the BBC he would not be coming back from holiday because he has "full confidence in the police". The people of north London need him right now.

Looted shops and destroyed local businesses are an own goal for Tottenham. This doesn't hurt the establishment people are railing against. Instead it injures the people who live and work in Haringey every day. The employees of the burnt-out Carpetright will need to find alternative employment or go without pay. This will scar my community for years to come.


Reni Eddo-Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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