London riots

Twitter a force for good during London riots

Twitter was a force for good during the summer riots in the UK, a study has found.

The research looked at 2.4 million tweets sent during the disturbances in August, and according to the study, there was “no evidence” to back calls that Twitter should be shut down for inciting unrest, rather there was “strong evidence” that the social networking site was valuable in organising clean-up operations.

The study, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee, included experts from a range of disciplines from the universities of Manchester, Leicester, St Andrews and Wolverhampton, and University College London.

Professor Rob Procter from the University of Manchester, who led the team, said: "In August this year social unrest spilled over on to the streets of English cities and the summer riots were the largest public disorder events in recent history.

"Politicians and commentators were quick to claim that social media played an important role in inciting and organising riots, calling for sites such as Twitter to be closed should events of this nature happen again.

"But our study found no evidence of significance in the available data that would justify such a course of action in respect to Twitter."

He added: "In contrast, we do find strong evidence that Twitter was a valuable tool for mobilising support for the post-riot clean-up and for organising specific clean-up activities."

Researchers were able to analyse the millions of "tweets" generated during and after the riots by using experts in cloud computing from the University of St Andrews. Cloud computing allows large-scale computing facilities to be accessed and shared by many users over the internet.

For this study, researchers set up dozens of computers to analyse the millions of messages posted during and after the riots.

Dr Alex Voss, from the school of computer science at St Andrews, said the analysis would have been "practically impossible" without using cloud computing.

The riots broke out in Tottenham, north London, on August 6, after the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan, 29. They then quickly spread to other parts of the capital and other English cities.

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