Social Media’s Role in The Huntington Beach Riot

This last Sunday, as many Orange County residents know, there was an unfortunate mishap after the conclusion of U.S. Open of Surfing in our hometown of Huntington Beach. Many are calling it a riot, however HBPD’s official statement labeled it as “a disturbance”. Technicalities aside, I’m not here to report the incident, but to bring to light the integral role social media played in the events of Sunday night.

As I became aware of the incident from the unusual amount of police cars passing down my street and phone calls from friends, I scanned the news channels and Internet for more information, however there was none to be found. My first thought was my friends had exaggerated the severity of the incident until I went to Instagram and searched the hashtags “#USOPEN” and “#RIOT”. This was when I realized it was no minor incident as photos and short videos of fights, vandalism and policemen marching down Main Street with riot gear and tear gas enveloped my phone’s screen. It wasn’t until about ten minutes after this, that I saw the first news report, however there were no photos, videos, or even someone on scene yet.

After Sunday’s mayhem subsided, I thought for all the supposed negatives of social media, here is an example of something truly remarkable; hundreds of citizen reporters on scene showcasing the graphic and personal detail of the event as it unfolded. As a former journalist, I am in awe of how quickly the information disseminated to the world thanks to social media. Social media has also been the primary source for the press and has lead to at least eight arrests since Sunday; from the perpetrators bragging on Twitter, to the flood of video and photographic evidence that was posted HBPD’s Facebook page the week following.

While some argue social media may lead to a ‘1984’ type scenario where “Big Brother” is always watching us, it also gives us the power to fight “Big Brother” and criminals alike. Not only has social media aided in crime investigations, it has also played an integral role in exposing political and police corruption and the liberation of entire countries. While they may have an eye on us, we also have an eye on them.

Whichever side you fall on, it is undeniable that social media is going nowhere soon. It has changed personal communication, marketing, journalism and the world forever. For all the worrying we do of the “Twitterization” of the English language and exposure of personal information (which can only be exposed if you give it), I think we should remember what a great and powerful social media is in the hands of the human race.