ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Policing and crisis communications: Reading the Riots on Twitter and beyond

Rob Procter, Farida Vis, Alex Voss

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 2 - Law Building, Room 026
Date: 2012-07-10 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-03-14


This paper addresses the question of how government agencies and communities can make more effective use of social media during civil crises, natural disasters as well as everyday policing and community management, increasingly recognised as an area that needs significant innovation. In particular, we will report on how organisations such as the police are struggling to adapt to a changed social media landscape, highlighting how established police methods for information gathering do not translate to social media.

Social media presents new opportunities for keeping the public informed in a timely way about events. However, our study of Twitter use during the UK riots, conducted in collaboration with The Guardian newspaper and Twitter, reveals UK police forces and government agencies face major problems in making effective use of social media to help deal with such events (Ball and Taylor, 2011).
The Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) Twitter account was the 10th most cited account among 2.6 million riot tweets examined, highlighting the importance of emergency service use of social media during crises. During the riots GMP used Twitter to distribute useful information to the public, dispel rumours and collect information. However, UK police forces are, in general, facing a steep learning curve as they grapple with the challenges of understanding what methods are most effective for ensuring information reaches large numbers of people quickly and how, more generally, how social media be used to improve engagement with the communities they serve.

Using examples drawn from our analysis of the riots corpus and from workshops we have been conducting with UK police force representatives, we will present examples of where the police got their use of social media ‘wrong’ and dealt with it badly and where they got it ‘right’ and dealt with it well during the riots. Finally, we will summarise the lessons learnt and assess where social media might be in 24 months in order to highlight which other platforms might become significant.

Ball, J. and Taylor, M (2011). Met police must 'do things differently' after riots, says senior commissioner, The Guardian, 14 December 2011.