Posted at 10:27 AM ET, 08/09/2011

In London riots, BlackBerry Messenger gets starring role

A resident films a police officer on his mobile phone during disturbances in Hackney. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
The quick spread of the riots and violence in London over the last few days seem to have taken Britain by surprise. Not enough police were on the streets; the prime minister did not come back into town until two days of violence rocked the city; and, Monday night, the violence spread to cities beyond London.

It seems the rioters had a key assist from a technology not often making headlines: BlackBerry Messenger (or BBM for short). It’s put Blackberry at the center of the riots, with a London MP asking the company to turn off the technology to calm the chaos and a hacking group infiltrating the Blackberry site threatening riots at the Blackberry headquarters if the company releases any BBMs to the police.

While Twitter and Facebook have gotten the lion’s share of attention in helping to fuel protests in the Middle East, the public nature of those sites has kept most Londoners away from the open networks. The Guardian reports that many of the rioters organized on the private messaging system BBM, which allows for a group text messaging to be sent to people within a chosen network.

One such message shown to the Guardian read: “Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) f*** the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother... SALUT! if you see a fed... SHOOT!”

A recent study showed that more young adults between 16-24 prefer the less expensive BlackBerry phones than other smartphones.

Now, David Lammy, member of Parliament for the restive Tottenham neighborhood, has called for BlackBerry to suspend its service to quell the riots. BlackBerry had previously released a statement that it is willing to work with the police to assist with any riot investigation.

Egyptian bloggers strove to make clear Monday night that the riots in London did not imitate the protests in Cairo. As Mosa’ab Elshamy wrote, “Egyptians and Tunisians took revenge for Khaled Said and Bouazizi by peacefully toppling their murdering regimes, not stealing DVD players.” However, the notion of shutting down BBM services does echo Syrian, Egyptian and Libyan government attempts to shut down Internet services during the Middle East uprisings.

A hacking group going by the name of TeaMp0isoN_ broke onto the Blackberry blog and posted a message saying that if the company assists the UK police, the hackers will pass along company information to rioters.

“Do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?” the message reads. “Think about it…. and don’t think that the police will protect your employees, the police can’t protect themselves let alone protect others….. if you make the wrong choice your database will be made public, save yourself the embarrassment and make the right choice. don’t be a puppet.”

By  |  10:27 AM ET, 08/09/2011

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