How Social Media Contributed to the London Riots

By Abi King | England

Oct 07

riotcleanup clapham

What is RiotCleanUp?

Sophie Collard spills the beans…

I sat with one eye on BBC News 24 and one eye on my Twitter feed the night the rioting peaked. I have ongoing issues with 24-hour news channels, where the same image of a burning building is replayed again and again as if a new building is on fire every half hour.

Journalist Nikki Bayley tweeted that during the Vancouver riots, residents just got the mess cleaned up.

So I replied to her.

I said I thought it would be a wonderful idea to get sensible people to the affected areas to clean up. That we
should call it #riotcleanup. And then I switched off my computer and went to bed.

I didn’t look at Twitter again until 11am the following morning and couldn’t believe what I saw.

Overnight, a man called Dan Thompson had mobilised a large number of people. The idea was that everyone would turn up at the nearest place to them that had been damaged in the riots, armed with brooms. Celebrities like Stephen Fry and
Simon Pegg had written tweets using the hashtag #riotcleanup. It was trending at the top of the list (the most widely used hashtag) worldwide.

My heart leapt, I got ready to leave and headed to Clapham Junction with a broom.

Riotcleanup brooms

The scene there was amazing. Hundreds of people had turned up to help out and although the council’s street cleaners and firefighters had already cleaned the place up, the crowd of people with brooms did a little sweeping and served as a powerful message to the world.

A message that Britain was not being taken over by a small minority ofopportunists, that most of us who live here would rather help our communities than destroy them.

A message that Britain was not being taken over by a small minority ofopportunists, that most of us who live here would rather help our communities than destroy them.


In the days that followed, I rounded up some of the guys who built the website and some others who could help improve its functionality. It turned out that two of them were 16 year-olds: Patrick in France and Jake, who I managed to meet.

We formed a team and called ourselves @Riotdevs (devs meaning developers) on Twitter. We spent a day in a Google Hangout, all six of us in a video conference. It was great.

Meanwhile, Dan Thompson was getting a call a minute on his phone and thousands of emails. He ended up having to get some volunteers from Twitter just to go through all his answer-phone messages and emails.

Riotcleanup TV

I myself had an interview with the Travel Trade Gazette (very exciting) as well as a one with a cleaning industry magazine called Tomorrow’s Cleaning. Dan and I then met politicians and councillors, and I met some community groups with a musician who had run the Riotcleanup Twitter account and linked people up all over the place.

Dan and I have recently had a meeting with a volunteering organisation and spent some time thinking about the future.
I was contacted by some volunteers who wanted to help out – and we spent a day working on an allotment.

When I asked the woman who ran the allotment on the estate whether she felt we were intruding or that they might not want help from outside she replied, “oh no, when we heard you were coming we were jumping up and down for joy.”

riotcleanup ladder

Moments like that lead you to realize that you can change things and that most people want to help you to do so.

They want to change things too. They want to help people, they just need to be shown how.

Watch this space. Riotcleanup has started something – and it’s really exciting.


Sophie Collard RiotcleanupSophie Collard is a freelance travel writer and copywriter. Read more about her work at Sophie On Track.


Were you affected by the London Riots? Did you get involved in #RiotCleanUp?

UPDATE: Find out more about the next project, #FutureCleanUp, here.


About the Author

Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on

Italian Notes October 7, 2011

Great initiative – and what a nice encouraging story.

    Abi King October 9, 2011

    Yes, it’s certainly good to remember that it’s not all bad news out there!

Will - Gap Daemon October 7, 2011

Wow! Inspiring stuff! I remember watching it all unfold and not really lifting an eyelid. I’m glad people like Dan Thompson show such initiative when the rest of us are lacking.

Moving post!

    Abi King October 9, 2011

    It’s certainly one of the most encouraging stories I’ve heard about the riots…And Sophie was so modest about how involved she was. It’s fantastic that these guys showed such initiative.

Melvin October 7, 2011

What a great project! Just very bad that the German press didn’t cover that… or not enough that I haven’t seen it. That’s so typical, that burning buildings are more of interest. Luckily there are bloggers who could revolutionize the media, at least a bit. :)

    Abi King October 9, 2011

    Oh Melvin, you’re so right! I was in Malaysia at the time and all I saw was burning buildings…The only inspiring thing I saw was how quick the injured Malaysian student was to forgive his assailants after a very brutal attack…

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