Brenden Dowden, 20, was visiting friends in London, Ont., to celebrate St. Patrick's Day on Saturday when he found himself in the middle of a riot near Fanshawe College.
"I was just part if [sic]a huge riot in london at fanshawe. Took part in flipping a car, lot [sic]a ctv van on fire. Check the news. Videos up soon!" he wrote on Facebook, a status sent via text message. He was one of several people who turned to social media to reveal being at the riot.
On Sunday, however, he said he made a drunken mistake in sending the status update, adding he was among the crowd but didn't actually throw a bottle, overturn a car or light a fire – anything that would lead to a charge. His name and others had nonetheless spread quickly online. After last year's Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, social media users were similarly swift in identifying those who'd taken part.
Mr. Dowden spoke to The Globe Sunday after deleting his status, saying he doesn't agree with the riot but that it was nonetheless exciting. As of Sunday, police had made 11 arrests and pledged there would be more. They hadn't yet been in contact with Mr. Dowden, who lives about 120 kilometres away from London. Police say people can be charged simply for being at the riot.
What's the reaction been like?
"I've had people, someone from St. Catharines [Ont.]call me, someone from somewhere else called me, and they say 'Why would you do that?' and then just hang up. Like, OK.... It bothers me, the fact that I've made the littlest mistake of texting my status. If I was one of the guys or one of the girls who did all that stuff, if I partook in actually doing the damage, I wouldn't feel like this. I'd be angry, I'd be, like, 'why did I do that,' kind of thing, but now I'm sitting here going: 'I really hope I can fix this because I don't want to end up being charged for something I didn't even do.'"
Why send the text?
"I was in a drunken state when I wrote that... I wasn't even paying attention to how ridiculous that looked. I didn't think about it, I woke up and my phone had a bunch of messages and stuff, and Facebook – and I look at it and think 'Oh my gosh, like, why did I write that?' I remember thinking to myself when I was writing it, I was like, 'I gotta make sure when I write this: I can't say that I did something, because I didn't.' And then I looked at it and I did exactly [that]when I was trying to say something else."
Things from the riot spread so quickly online.
"It was pretty ridiculous how fast [it's]all over. All over YouTube, all over any social network."
What do you think about the response?
"The same people that are tweeting about this and saying all this, obviously they kind of get a rush off it just like the people that are watching the so-called riot. People are interested. It's entertaining to be a part of something like that, a lot of people would agree, and the people who weren't there and are angry about it are the ones that are tweeting and saying, well, 'Oh these people are ridiculous, these people are fools.' Well, it's none of their business."
What was the riot like?
"I didn't see a fight. I didn't see anybody starting arguments with other people. It was just, everyone was just there – as strange as it sounds – everyone was just there to have a good time. And it was a pretty ridiculous way of having a good time. I don't agree with what happened. But I mean, like, it was a lot of fun probably for a lot of people because it was extreme."
Why'd they burn the CTV van?
"I think if it was a regular van, they wouldn't have, but maybe because it was to do with news, they thought it would be kind of, like, an ironic joke."
Would you send the same status again?
"Oh absolutely not. Honestly, my friend he put his status to just "London riot" and was like, I'm glad you did something smart. [But]not me."
I spoke with someone today who said police can't charge someone based only on a tweet or Facebook status.
"That is the hugest relief."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.