I first got interested in hockey during the 1993-94 NHL season. It was during that year that my hometown Vancouver Canucks made their storied playoff run, capped off by an epic Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers. Pavel Bure, Kirk McLean, Trevor Linden, Cliff Ronning… these guys were my heroes. And then, things took a turn for the worse.

Not only did the Canucks lose to the Rangers in that final; a huge riot broke out in downtown Vancouver, causing all kinds of damage to local businesses and public property. When the Canucks started on their playoff run this past season, Vancouverites would casually joke about how we’re probably going to have a riot again. We casually joke about what we’d nab as part of the looting. These were jokes that we could tell, because enough time had passed.

Then, our worst nightmares came true. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. But the 2011 riots in Vancouver are very different than the ones that took place in 1994. One of the biggest differences is the rise of social media and the power that brings to the people.

Everyone has a camera. Everyone has a Facebook profile. Everything is on the Internet. That’s why it didn’t take very long for us to learn that the “kissing couple” was Canadian student Alex Thomas and Australian bartender Scott Jones. A little searching on the web, a little networking, and their identities quickly rose to the surface.

Last time I heard, over one million photos have been submitted to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) as part of their active investigation. This is really helping to bring the rioters to justice, especially when the photos are accompanied with evidence IDing those individuals and even linking to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Everything is evidence.

A prime example of this is Nathan Kotylak. The 17-year-old was on track for the Olympics for water polo, but then he was caught lighting a police squad car on fire during the riots. If this was 1994, he might have gotten away with it.

But this is 2011. This is the age when several photos and even a video was shot of young Nathan committing the serious crime. It wasn’t long after the riot that he was identified by the public and the Internet was flooded with stories about who he was and what he did. Social media brought him into infamy.

Even if you watch the full apology interview on Global TV, you’ll see something very telling: he said that he Googled his name before and after the riot. You can probably guess what changed during that time. If he wasn’t caught red-handed, would he have really come forward with that public confession and apology? I doubt it.

You know what, though? Social media has been not only instrumental in identifying the rioters and providing useful evidence for law enforcement; it has also brought the city back together. It was through Facebook, even during the riot itself, that a group started to organize to clean up the mess.

By midnight, when the riot was almost concluded, nearly 10,000 people signed up to go downtown the next day. That is my Vancouver. That is the true face of this city. And if it were not for Facebook, there’s no way that the cleanup crew could have organized so quickly.

Social media is changing the world. It has toppled governments and now it’s bringing rioting criminals in front of the courts. This will surely get those foolish people think twice before making another bad decision. The mob mentality is no excuse.

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