Researchers conclude: 'Government must change tack on social media'

Posted by pt91 at Dec 15, 2011 09:33 AM |
University of Leicester academic among team presenting results at London conference
Researchers conclude: 'Government must change tack on social media'

Dr Farida Vis of the Department of Media and Communication.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 14 December 2011

The Government should not let fears that Twitter will be misused - whether illegally or just mischievously - as a reason to close down social media platforms during civil disturbances such as the August riots, says a leading academic.

Professor Rob Procter from The University of Manchester led a JISC funded study of more than 2.5 million Twitter messages from the time of the disturbances. Dr Farida Vis of the University of Leicester's Department of Media and Communication also worked on the study.

His team found that politicians claiming Twitter played a major role in inciting and organising the riots were wrong.

Instead, Twitter was a force for good, helping to mobilise the post-riot clean up.

Professor Procter who is based at The University's Manchester e-Research Centre, and Dr Farida Vis, from the University of Leicester, present their arguments to a conference at the London School of Economics today (14 December).

Professor Procter said: "The Government should not let the misuse of social media persuade them to close down sites such as Twitter during civil disturbances: it is just too valuable to individuals and to communities.

"People need access to reliable information sources during crises so they can make sensible decisions about how to react.

"Social media can be a valuable source of information for people during crises and can help mobilise community efforts to deal with them."

He added: "Government agencies - such as emergency services - must learn to engage more actively with social media so they can respond to such events in a timely and effective way.

Dr Farida Vis added: "We will now start the second phase of this project where we will conduct interviews with some of the most influential Twitter users during the riots, such as Dan Thompson who set up the riot clean up account that became so instrumental in organising a widely adopted grass roots response to the riots.

"We also very much look forward to working closely with government agencies to implement some of our recommendations and explore ways in which their social media engagement can be improved so that it can be utilised more effectively during future crises."

Also according to Professor Procter's research team, rumours broke quickly in Twitter and the mainstream media lagged behind citizen reports of the riots

Examples included rumours the London Eye had been set on fire and animals had been released from the London Zoo - which both turned out to be untrue.

Other stories turned out to be true such as the burning down of a Miss Selfridge shop in Manchester.

Professor Procter added: "We found 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."

The analysis of messages exchanged on Twitter during the riots was undertaken as part of a larger, JISC funded project called NeISS: National e-Infrastructure for Social Science Simulation.

The NeISS project aims to introduce social scientists to new ways of thinking about social problems.

Dr Torsten Reimer, the JISC programme manager responsible for NeISS, said: "The influence of social media on society is growing rapidly so we need a much better understanding of their impact on people's lives.

"In the case of Twitter this means analysing gigantic amounts of data, constantly created by millions of people, - a task that requires new tools and methods, supported by a broader digital infrastructure for research.

"We are pleased that we had the chance to support the NeISS project team working in collaboration with the Guardian to demonstrate how this infrastructure can be used to understand what happened during the riots in August."

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Notes for editors

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman

Press Officer

Faculty of Humanities

The University of Manchester

0161 275 0790

07717 881567

Michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk

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