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Twitter was not to blame for England riots, research finds

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

December 8, 2011 | 2 min read

Politicians were wrong to blame social media for being used to incite and organise riots across England earlier this year, a study by the University of Manchester has found.

The study of 2.4 million Twitter messages from around the time of the riots were considered by a multidisciplinary team at The University, led by Professor Rob Proctor, which claims that Twitter was used as a force for good, and was not responsible for the disturbances.

Following the riots, which swept across England earlier this year, many used Twitter to organise a clean-up of their cities.

The report has been published as part of the Guardian’s Reading the Riots investigation.

Professor Procter said: “In August this year, social unrest spilled over onto 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 action in respect to Twitter.

“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.”

The research team also found that rumours were quick to ‘break’ through Twitter, with the mainstream media lagging behind citizen reports.

“Only after a period of time does the influence of mainstream media organisations become critical for determining a rumour's credibility,” continued Proctor.

“But we do find the mainstream media is perfectly capable of picking up and publishing unverified information from social media without adhering to the usual standard of fact checking.

“Consequently, some stories of this nature, though never verified, go unchallenged.”

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