Social media, sousveillance and civil unrest in the United Kingdom


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Paper presented at Birmingham Centre for Media and Communication Research seminar, Birmingham City University, 5th June 2013.

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Social media, sousveillance and civil unrest in the United Kingdom

  1. 1. media, sousveillance and civilSocial media, sousveillance and civilunrest in the UKunrest in the UKDr Paul ReillyDr Paul ReillyUniversity of LeicesterUniversity of LeicesterPaper presented to Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural ResearchPaper presented to Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural ResearchBirmingham City UniversityBirmingham City University5 June 20135 June 2013@PaulJReilly@PaulJReilly1
  2. 2. Overview:• Sousveillance and social media• Youtube, sousveillance and 2011 anti-tescoriot(s) in Bristol• Social media as ‘accelerant’ for Union Flagprotests in Northern Ireland in 2013
  3. 3. Sousveillance and social media:• From French word sous (below) and veiller (to watch) –‘inverse surveillance’• Concept developed by Mann to explore potential use ofwearable computing to empower users (1997, 2001)• Two forms: personal (first person perspectives on life) andhierarchical (recording authority figures and actions)• Web 2.0 social practices (e.g. use of smart phones to accesssocial media) generate “intensification of sousveillance’(Bakir, 2010)
  4. 4. Background: Stokes Croft, Bristol• Survey in March 2010 shows that 93% of local peopleoppose opening of Tesco store• Tesco receives planning permission to open store onCheltenham road on 8 December 2010• April 21 2011 – violence breaks out after policeoperation to evict squat opposite Tesco store- policeclaim they are acting on reports of petrol bombthreat from squat, local residents accuse police of‘heavy-handed’ tactics4
  5. 5. Disagreement over police actions on21stApril:” Yesterday there was a very real threat to the local community from the petrol bombsthat were being made and we needed to take positive action [….] The fact that weseized petrol bombs illustrates the seriousness of this situation and the reason why wetook this positive action”Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen, Avon andSomerset Constabulary, 22ndApril 2011.The police tactics were unfathomable. They seemed to consist of running from one end ofStokes Croft to the other (and up several side streets), randomly charging about theplace, getting more and more people involved and moving the violence into new areasthat had previously been quiet.”Battle of Stokes Croft: eye witness/local resident report,Bristol Indymedia, 22ndApril 20115
  6. 6. Videos of events posted on Youtube:•
  7. 7. Reilly (forthcoming): Youtubers respondto this ‘sousveillance’ footage• N=1018 comments left under four mostcommented-upon videos• Videos show eyewitness perspectives on policingof disturbances• Focus not only on riot police but also those whoparticipated in/witnessed riot• Study examines whether commenters perceivedthis was an act of hierarchical sousveillance andwhether they sympathised with local residents
  8. 8. Comments: Key themes• Criticism of rioters (cost to tax payers, their background, efficacy of tactics)A boycott or peaceful protest would have been far betterIt was a substance fueled riot. Not an ideologically fueled_ one• Police response (disproportionate, robust enough?)Yep I hope the police officers pay for_ their brutalityLook at countries like Italy and France, they shoot people with jets of water whichsend you flying. Our country really needs to shape-up• Support for ‘People Power’This is ART, it is beautiful democracy in action, it is empowering, engaging, an_image of solidarity and people power. Go On YE!!!!!!!!!• Why Tesco? (Tesco tax avoidance, threat to local business).Tescos mindset of social theft with the long term_ result of turning communitiesinto depersonalized ghost towns must always be challenged.
  9. 9. Results: Mixed response tosousveillance footage?• Majority of the comments criticised the police for notadopting more aggressive crowd control methods e.g. watercanon and baton rounds• There was no consensus amongst commenters in relation tothe broader issues e.g. legitimacy of local campaigns toprotect small businesses from large corporations such asTesco.• Youtube provided a public space in which alternativeperspectives were both seen and heard, but little rationaldebate about the meaning of events, with the views of manycommenters still strongly influenced by the news media.
  10. 10. Social media and English riots (6-10 August 2011)Social media and English riots (6-10 August 2011)• 10
  11. 11. Social media used ‘for good and bad’ duringAugust riots:• BBM broadcasts used to organise riots in London, Birmingham,Manchester – ‘chitter-chatter’• Rumours and unsubstantiated information spread via Twitter (e.g.Reading the Riots)• People made aware via social and traditional media (esp television) thatpolice had lost control of streets• Social media provides real-time information about riots to local residentswho board up shop windows and leave affected areas• Twitter used to organise clean up operations (#riotcleanup)
  12. 12. Reilly (2011): Social media not to blame forstreet riots in Northern Ireland• PSNI claimed they did not routinely monitor social media for intelligenceabout street riots (community workers believed they did though..)• Key stakeholders perceive that the multistakeholder approach towardsInternet Safety is an effective and proportionate response to the ‘anti-social’ networking practices of young people.• They believed that anti-social behaviour could be organised via SMS textmessaging if sites as Bebo were no longer available.
  13. 13. Union Flag protests: Social mediaas accelerant?• Belfast City Council vote to fly Union Flag over City Hall onlyon designated days on 3rdDecember 2012• Leaflet distributed in East Belfast constituency calls for PUL(Protestant Unionist Loyalist) people to protest• Organisations such as Ulster People’s Voice (UPV) and UlsterPeople’s Forum (UPF) said to be behind protest at BCC vote –target pro-Union Alliance Party for their support of motion• Operation Standstill designed to cause maximum disruptionacross Northern Ireland by blocking main roads
  14. 14. Facebook and Twitter used topromote #operationstandstill
  15. 15. List of planned protests circulateson social media:
  16. 16. Social media used by both citizen andprofessional journalists to share images ofrioting across Northern Ireland:
  17. 17. Recording of pensioner arguingwith loyalist protesters goes viral:•
  18. 18. Loyalist protesters upload footageshowing alleged PSNI ‘brutality’ toYoutube: Sousveillance?
  19. 19. Like English riots, rumours alsocirculate on social media sites:• Pensioner caught on tape was a hoax -‘republican dirty trick’• Police vehicle drove through protest injuringseveral children• Members of the Garda Siochana wereresponsible for policing protests in East BelfastQ. Should PSNI be doing more to counter theserumours on Twitter?
  20. 20. Social media and conflict transformationin NI (Reilly, forthcoming) will:• Analyse how parties, institutions have usednew media to mobilise support for/againstpeace process• Assess the contribution of social media tointercommunity dialogue• Examine extent to which social media providespaces in which alternative perspectives maybe heard and mainstream media frames arechallenged
  21. 21. Conclusion• Use of social media for sousveillance purposes may raisemore questions about behaviour of members of the publicthan the police• Social media provides space for alternative perspectives oncivil unrest to emerge but mainstream media framing ofevents continues to influence opinion of commenters• But, analysis of content posted on social media sites such asFacebook and Twitter may provide a more nuancedunderstanding of civil unrest than mainstream media