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The London Riots and 7 Other Things Blamed on Social Media

© KERIM OKTEN/epa/Corbis

As a result of the recent riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron has come forth and declared that social media is the enemy. After reports that rioters and looters were using Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger to plan their attacks, Cameron asked police to find ways to block people from using electronic platforms to mobilize during times of “violence, disorder and criminality.” This isn’t the first time social media has been blamed or credited for something important. Here are seven examples.

1. Syphilis

Last year, a health official in the UK linked Facebook and other social media sites with an uptick in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. “There has been a fourfold increase in the number of syphilis cases detected with more young women being affected,” Peter Kelly told The Telegraph. “I don’t get the names of people affected, just figures, and I saw that several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites.”

Facebook fired back in a statement: “Facebook is no more responsible for STD transmission than newspapers responsible for bad vision. Today’s reports exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation.”

2. Ruining Our Children

Back in 2006, Ron Vietti, Senior Pastor of Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield, CA, made headlines for being a vocal critic of then-popular social networking site MySpace. He argued the site — which he called both “worse than crack, cocaine or meth” and “My Waste of Space Dot Com” — was luring boys into pornography and making young girls targets of sexual predators. As David Burger reported in The Bakersfield Californian, Vietti said the site fostered bisexuality and called the Internet “the devil’s biggest scheme he has ever inserted into our lives.” He urged his congregation to go to places young people hang out (“like bars”) to convince them to delete their MySpace profiles.

3. Spider-Man’s Problems

Early reviews of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were not kind. Critics complained about the plot, the score, and the ticket prices. Original director Julie Taymor, who left the production in March, later blamed Twitter for the show’s initial troubles. According to the London Free Press, Taymor “believed too many people used the social network to voice their opinions before the show was ready.”

“It’s very scary if people are going more towards that,” she explained. “To have audiences tell you how to make a show… Shakespeare would have been appalled.”

4. Hosni Mubarak’s Downfall

In Egypt, social media has been considered partly responsible for ending President Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year presidency this year. Using Facebook and Twitter, Egyptians voiced their displeasure with the country’s government and organized the January 25th protests that began the still-ongoing Egyptian revolution and also resulted in Mubarak’s eventual resignation. According to one of the activists involved, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.” Interestingly enough, British PM Cameron praised the way Egyptians used social media to mobilize, calling the protests “a movement of the people” and calling social media “a powerful tool in the hands of citizens.”

5. Iranian Unrest

Social media was credited for the protests in response to the 2009 Iranian elections as well. The protests began after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was named president again despite questionable results. The reaction has been called the “Twitter Revolution” because Iranians used the site to coordinate with one another, although as TIME argued, “Twitter didn’t start the protests in Iran, nor did it make them possible.” Whether the social media site had a significant role in the protests or not, the U.S. government seemed to believe it did. The U.S. contacted Twitter and asked the company to move a planned system upgrade to 1:30 a.m., Iranian time, in case it temporarily disabled the service.

6. Divorce

Facebook makes it easy to reconnect with past lovers, which can cause problems in current relationships. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that, according to Divorce-Online, 20% of divorce cases contain references to Facebook.

7. Underage Marriage (in Indonesia)

A member of the Indonesian religious court faulted Facebook for the rising number of underage marriages and teenage pregnancies in the country. In Indonesia, women must be 16 years old and men must be 19 in order to wed; the official saw at least an 8 percent increase in the number of underage individuals seeking marriages this year.

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