Social media and civil unrest: challenges and opportunities for UK Police


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Powerpoint from presentation to Global MSC Seminar, Royal Marriott, Bristol 6 March 2012.

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Social media and civil unrest: challenges and opportunities for UK Police

  1. 1. Social media and social unrest: Challenges and Opportunities for UK Police Forces Dr Paul Reilly University of Leicester 6 March 2012 1
  2. 2. Overview• Social media challenges for UK Police during civil unrest: Belfast and Bristol• Lessons from the English riots (Aug 2011)• Police use of social media to engage with local communities
  3. 3. Social media, protest and ‘recreational rioting’ in Belfast:• Social media used to coordinate interface violence (Whitewell Youth Mediation Project, 2008; Centre for Young Men’s Studies, 2009)• Media framing of incidents – ‘technopanic’? Social media to blame?• NI adults cautious about new media (OfCom 2010 Adult Literacy Audit)• Adolescent practices consistent with rest of the UK (Lloyd & Devine, 2008; Livingstone and Brake, 2010)• Small pilot study of community workers and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) examines responses to the use of social media to organise street riots
  4. 4. Reilly (2011): Social media not to blame for street riots• PSNI claimed they did not routinely monitor social media for intelligence about street riots (community workers believed they did though..)• Key stakeholders perceive that the multistakeholder approach towards Internet 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 text messaging if sites as Bebo were no longer available.
  5. 5. Sousveillance and social media:• From French word sous (below) and veiller (to watch) – ‘inverse surveillance’• Concept developed by Mann to explore potential use of wearable computing to empower users (1997, 2001)• Two forms: personal (first person perspectives on life) and hierarchical (recording authority figures and actions)• Web 2.0 social practices (e.g. use of smart phones to access social media) generate “intensification of sousveillance’ (Bakir, 2010)
  6. 6. Disagreement over police actions on 21st April:” Yesterday there was a very real threat to the local community from the petrol bombs that were being made and we needed to take positive action [….] The fact that we seized petrol bombs illustrates the seriousness of this situation and the reason why we took this positive action” Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen, Avon and Somerset Constabulary, 22nd April 2011.The police tactics were unfathomable. They seemed to consist of running from one end of Stokes Croft to the other (and up several side streets), randomly charging about the place, getting more and more people involved and moving the violence into new areas that had previously been quiet.” Battle of Stokes Croft: eye witness/local resident report, Bristol Indymedia, 22nd April 2011 6
  7. 7. Videos of events posted on Youtube:• 7
  8. 8. Research Questions:• What themes emerge from the videos uploaded to Youtube by those who witnessed the Stokes Croft riots? Does it correspond to hierarchical or personal sousveillance?• How do audiences (commenters) respond to these videos? What themes characterise these responses?• N= 52 videos, 1018 comments (from four most commented upon videos)• Critical thematic analysis of videos – repetition, recurrence and forcefulness (Orbe & Kinefuchi, 2008; van Zoonen et al, 2010; Grace Antony & Thomas, 2010)
  9. 9. Preliminary findings:• Both personal and hierarchical sousveillance evident in the videos posted on Youtube e.g. Film Everything!• Study suggests that these videos could be considered records of citizen journalism informed by sousveillance techniques• Comments left by Youtubers show sympathy for the police and criticism of rioters• Youtube is also a space for some users to negotiate the meaning of these events – for police narratives to be both supported and challenged
  10. 10. Social media and English riots (6-10 August 2011)• msid=205032186327800375055.0004a9e051b74ddbfcadd&m sa=0 10
  11. 11. Some UK politicians blame social media for riots (11 August):“Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality” Prime Minister David Cameron
  12. 12. Social media used ‘for good and bad’ during August 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) that police had lost control of streets• Social media provides real-time information about riots to local residents who board up shop windows and leave affected areas• Twitter used to organise clean up operations (#riotcleanup)
  13. 13. How did UK Police use social media during the August riots?• Provide real-time information to residents• Quell rumours and misinformation about riots• Appeal for help in prosecuting rioters (‘Name and Shame’)• Riots led to an intensification of police engagement with social media e.g. 813 UK officers on Twitter (1 March 2012)
  14. 14. ACPO ‘Engage’ strategy details how social media could support neighbourhood policing (2010)• Source of intelligence for policing e.g. riots, protests• Provide real-time information about safety issues e.g. road traffic accidents• Help CEOP and related agencies involved in promoting Internet Safety• Share knowledge and best practice
  15. 15. Innovative Police uses of new media include:
  16. 16. Crump (2011) Twitter used ‘cautiously’ by UK Police Forces• Twitter most successfully used in real-time operational situations or in marketing campaign• Use has been largely non-transformational – reputational risk remains a concern• Extra channel for delivering messages, not means of enabling dialogue with public• Greatest strength is publicising issues and conversations taking place elsewhere
  17. 17. Conclusion• Difficult to control social media during civil unrest but important for police to respond quickly to misinformation and rumours• August riots demonstrated examples of good practice in terms of how police use social media for broadcasting• Tension between openness of sites such as Twitter and the need to preserve reputation of UK Police forces• Social media can support but not replace traditional modes of police engagement with the public