06/23/2011 01:50 EDT | Updated 08/23/2011 05:12 EDT

Did Police Media Strategy Contribute to Riots?

If the media ignores online social media chatter, would the riot's impact have been different? I suspect yes. They took pictures, then the media went wild putting their pictures on television. These young adults could not have been more thrilled with the outcome.


Recent events in Vancouver have had me musing about the role the media and Vancouver Police media strategy have had and the law of unintended consequences.

If you search up "1994 Vancouver riot", you come across about 3,270,000 results. Clicking on "news" results in around 1310 results, over 1280 in the past month. Remember where the Internet was in 1994?

Here is a May 25 article via the Canadian press as an example of the media frenzy leading up to the events of June 15 events. There are thousands of articles and news items just like it. I am in no way blaming the media and police and the focus has been right where it should be, on shaming the perpetrators. However they don't shame easily and all the coverage was adding fuel to the fire. Was anyone surprised after the game when it all happened?

Consider your mental state as a young adult with a few adult beverages consumed. Most of the people involved in the 2011 riot were not adults or even teenagers in 1994. So in the last month, these young people, searching to find themselves and eager to come together in groups for a common party have heard, read and viewed thousands of messages telling them about the 1994 riots.

The last time Vancouver was in the Stanley Cup final, that's what Vancouver fans do, was the message. Seventeen years later, here is our chance to participate in history was the mantra of all of these young adults. They took pictures and video of themselves and others uploaded them to the Internet, then the media went wild putting their pictures and video on television and live coverage of the event. These young adults could not have been more thrilled with the outcome. They will have stories to tell their children and pass this tradition along to them.

The 2011 riots are now a marking point in these young adults lives. In the 60s it was Woodstock, in 1972, it was about Canada-USSR hockey series, for some of us, we were here when our favorite team won the cup. For me it was 1989. I also recall 1986 when my beloved Flames lost in the Stanley Cup final. There was no "place to go" when we lost, only if we won. Before the Red Mile it was Electric Avenue in Calgary. We didn't have messages in the media of destruction and looting. There were a handful of police officers and a few bouncers and they kept things within reason and we had fun.

So where do we go as a society? If the media ignores online social media chatter, would the impact have been different? If the Vancouver police hadn't done media interviews would the numbers have been lessened? I wish I knew the answer, but I suspect yes, the typical social anarchy groups could have been contained without all the fans cheering them on, taking pictures and joining in.

One must consider all the consequences, intended and unintended before you start speaking to the media. You might be considering complaining to the media about taxes or city services. Then consider how the city or other citizens might react.