Vancouver Riots After Canucks’ Loss: A City’s Social Media Identity

Say it with me Vancouver: “I am a Canucks fan, and I have a problem”. Vancouver fans rioted after the Canucks lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Boston Bruins. Is this indicative of the city’s identity or does social media tell a different story about Vancouver?

If you’re a Vancouverite (the affectionate term Vancouver residents use to refer to themselves), it’s like waking up with a hangover, complete with a headache and a sense of embarrassment as you remember the night before. For the last few months, the city has been drunk with Stanley Cup fever. Vancouver stopped every time a game was played; people gathered on couches, in bars, and in downtown Vancouver to support their team. They were buzzed – a feeling not unlike that from the Winter Olympics a year ago.

Then, something happened which killed the buzz dead in its tracks: the Canucks lost to the Bruins 4-0. And, for the second time in franchise history, Canucks fans rioted after losing the 7th game of a Stanley Cup playoff. The first riot was on June 14th 1994 when the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers. Twenty years later, the scene was eerily similar. Angry and disappointed fans took to Vancouver streets, starting fires, looting from stores, and causing general havoc for hours after the game.

What’s worse? Vancouver was sure it had matured. Leading up to the game radio hosts, journalists, and fans all agreed: rioting wasn’t a risk this time. This morning, everyone is hanging their heads and wondering: is this Vancouver – a city with the emotional capacity of a toddler?

While news reports paint one picture of Vancouver, social media provides – if not a different image – a different perspective of the city. Within hours of the riots, pages popped up on Facebook to try and create a different kind of mob mentality: one to help. A campaign aimed to identify rioters attracted 20, 000 people in less than twelve hours. On it, users are encouraged to post pictures and video of rioters in hopes they can be identified. The wall reads:

“People need to be held accountable for their actions and face the consequences under any circumstances”

A similar Tumblr site titled the Vancouver Riot Criminals List is also trying to help police catch those involved.

Another Facebook page was created late Wednesday; it called for people to help with clean up.  It reads: “Invite all of your friends! Let’s see if we can get Vancouver looking like a new city by noon Thursday!” The site’s copy is positive, affirmative and respectful of the needs of police to keep parts of downtown closed.

On June 15th, 2011 the online Vancouver and the offline Vancouver were vastly different. Which one was indicative of the city’s true identity? While the volume of followers on social media makes it tempting to vouch for the online community, Vancouver must acknowledge last night’s riots. Once is a blip. Twice is the beginning of a pattern. Perhaps, Vancouver’s biggest issue was that it refused to believe the riots could happen again. With ocean and mountains, Vancouver is a geographically stunning city. It is accepting and diverse. It’s easy to ignore the under belly. What is it that compels Vancouver residents to riot? To answer this, Vancouver needs to take a good look at itself.

But that look should include Facebook campaigns and Tumblr pages. What does a city do when its residents do the unthinkable? Well, it depends on the city. Some would get angry. Some would blame politicians. Others, however, would show strength in numbers – create Facebook groups and Tumblr pages whose 1000’s of followers vastly outnumber the few hundred troublemakers on the street.

In 2011, everyone has to navigate the perils of having identities both on and offline, and cities are no different. Vancouver can be both the city that riots, and the city that organized a Facebook page 10,000 people strong to clean up after that riot. It can be both embarrassed and proud. And, it is from acknowledging both the positive and the negative that Vancouver can create change so that if the Canucks ever do with the Stanley Cup, it’ll be nothing but celebration.

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