Social media, civil unrest and 'sousveillance'

Posted by fi17 at Oct 24, 2011 12:55 PM |
Leicester Academic examines what YouTube footage reveals about different takes on what really happened during Bristol riot.

Dr Paul Reilly from our Department of Media and Communication has studied the use of websites such as YouTube and Twitter during civil unrest. His findings suggest protesters, rioters, police and property owners all made use of such sites to keep track of events - either to co-ordinate activity or to protect themselves.

Dr Reilly examined videos posted on YouTube from the 'Stokes Croft protest' in Bristol against the opening of a new Tesco supermarket. He found that protesters used the videos and comments to present their side of the story, which at times contradicted the official version of events published in the press.

Dr Reilly, who delivered his findings at a symposium of the British Sociological Association's Sociology of Media Study Group earlier this year (before the widespread summer riots), believes this new use of social media has both positive and negative aspects, and represents a whole new way for the public to access up-to-the-minute information. His presentation title used the word 'sousveillance', a term coined by the University of Toronto's Steve Mann in 2004 to describe monitoring from within or below (ie. the opposite of surveillance).

Watching the people get lairy...


During the more recent riots, rioters and looters kept in touch using social media sites. But shopkeepers in Hackney also kept track of events on Twitter, allowing them to close their shops when danger approached. Similarly, police in Leicester made use of Twitter to dispel rumours and provide accurate information whist the riots went on.

Meanwhile James Treadwell from our Department of Criminology was researching the riots from within by donning a hoodie and mingling with the rioters themselves, as he told a recent conference at Birmingham City University. The Birmingham Mail quotes James' observation that the trouble had nothing to do with race or poverty: "these young people ... realised this was their outlet to consumerism. They know they cannot hack phones or fiddle expenses, but they can put a window through.”

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