UK Riots: Mapping Crisis


UK Riots: Mapping Crisis and Culture

The logo for the London 2012 Olympics is somehow a fitting symbol for the present situation as the past week have erupted with riots, looting, and violence not seen on any scale in England in close to 30 years. The numbers for the date that form a two-column, two-row cluster “2” “0” “1” “2” – particularly with the Union Jack skinned over their rough geometric shapes – look like the national flag ripped to shards. It’s hard to read, either way, with or without Britain’s national flag. Only the text for “London” and the 5 Olympic rings icon offers a clue.

The UK riots, which have booted media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s broadening telephone hacking scandal off page one news stories around the world, have revealed fractures and exposed economic and racial tensions on a scale that is not particular to a London neighborhood or to just one city. It is a national rupture and affects everyone from all backgrounds and classes.

Mapping the crisis has been essential as riot and looting activity is not isolated to one location. And it’s interesting, too, to view’s mapping real-time Twitter activity over the UK. Trendsmap is a very compelling mash-up of real-time Twitter trends around the globe with a world map powered by Google. Hashtags and keywords provide a patchwork tag cloud over a geographical area – usually a dense urban area – with feeds supporting each word. The larger the word the more frequent it’s usage.  The effect is a snapshot of language, ideas, news and other communications are shared on Twitter in addition to trending news stories, photos, video and topics

Who says chaos cannot be tamed? The level of granularity offers a glimpse into the moment and the culture of the time through geotagged voices pinned on a map. The degree of order and organization for info may vary, but with the riots unfolding around Britain, there is a shared focus.

James Cridland who is the Managing Director for – “the UK’s free media resource” – has produced a Google Map that had targeted locations of riot and looting activity in London during the first days of rioting between Saturday through Tuesday, 6 – 9 August 2011. He no longer maintains this map, but several mapping applications have been posted including this one from The Guardian that Cridland’s Google Map cites: UK riots: every verified incident – interactive map. Although riot activity has tapered since earlier this week, the map legend key identifies two colored pins: red for latest events and white for older events.

The Guardian also maps a chronicle of events – including clean-up operations — captured in geotagged digital photos posted to a Flickr pool. Photos posted to the pool and then geotagged to locations mapped around the UK offer perspectives about the riot activity around London and the country as this urban narrative has unfolded in the past week. See below for links to The Guardian’s Flickr Pool and UK riots: your pictures.

One of the more exciting developments from the past week is the London Riots of August 2011 Crowdmap that leverages the open source Ushahidi Crowdmap platform.  “Ushahidi” is the Swahili word for “testimony,” and the idea of crowdmapping incidents of violence in Kenya came as a response following  the 2008 elections which triggered unrest.  Crowdmapping via the Ushahidi Platform helped to identify locations of reported violence submitted online and through mobile phones.  Last week’s riots in London using the Crowdmap application offered filtered activity based on accidents and emergencies, looting and vandalism, fires and violence, property loss, deaths, road closures and police presence. Site visitors could submit a report via email or online using their form. Additionally, news, pictures, and video could be added and pinned to map location of additional activity as events unfolded.

Finally, other national news coverage produced ways of mapping socio-economic crisis. The Financial Times succinctly identified not only the unrest in London and around the UK’s major cities, but revealed metropolitan areas that have significant unemployment demographics based on percentage and age-group and where there are high deprivation levels. And the Telegraph, too, detailed mapped locations of where riots emerged around London and the UK as events unfolded and where social media networks could help locate activity.

Now that the dust has settled and residents are moving ahead to draw some perspective on the causes of how and why violent rioting has erupted, it’s also important to consider these examples of mapping activity during the riots. Whereas Prime Minister David Cameron and others are calling for restricting and even blocking social platforms such as mobile phone usage, Blackberrys and social media sites, therein lays the danger of extinguishing the voice for all at the expense of others. Patricia McDonald, who writes for Social Practice, outlines four excellent points in her article “Why Social Media remains a force for Social Good.” These include: 1) Crisis Mapping, 2) Real-time news, 3) Citizen journalism, and 4) Coordinating positive action.  If authorities choose to cut and block mobile and internet networks, then nobody wins and democracy loses.



Google London Riots / UK Riots

London Riots Crowdmap

Financial Times ( – London and UK riots: Interactive Map

Guardian Riots Incident Map

Guardian – UK riots: your pictures

Guardian Flickr Pool: London and UK Riots

London Riots: all incidents mapped in London and around the UK – Telegraph

Maptube – London Riots


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