Ever since this summer’s riots in England, it’s been clear that a significant portion of the participants traveled significant distances to join in.
For example, in my upcoming story for the January issue of Wired, I interview officials in Enfield, a suburb in the north of London, who say that a full 40 percent of the suspects in their riots hailed from outside the district, with some of them traveling from miles away, from neighborhoods on the other side of town.
But now we have some hard numbers. As part of Reading the Riots — a fantastic, newly-released collaboration between the Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics — a data mapping company called ITO World analyzed how far arrested rioters traveled to take part in these events. Based on a sample of 400 court cases, they found that the average “riot commute” was 2.2 miles, as the crow flies, or 2.6 miles based on likely car distances.
Better yet, the firm made this fabulous animation, showing the commutes as they transpired over multiple days:
The longest recorded “commutes” were 8 miles. Guardian reporters even tracked down one participant who cut short an overseas holiday to fly back and take part in the riots: “Even though it was a waste of money, it was so worth it. If I could go back in time I wouldn’t change it. Absolutely worth it.” (The dataset that ITO World used was based on home addresses, so the man’s flight back doesn’t show up on the video, alas.)
Beyond the neat animation, this analysis supplies some hard figures in support of the idea — anecdotally observed at the time — that smartphones and social media played a significant role in the riots. Traditionally, urban riots have been largely localized affairs, even after the dawn of television made people aware of these events as they happened. But in the summer of 2011, better and faster and more socially tailored information allowed rioters to coordinate over miles: an average of 2.2, to be exact.