Photo by Phil Long
London was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons last week, as rioters took to the street and mindlessly demolished anything and everything they could. I watched on the television from my home in Manchester in disbelief.
And then by the Monday, Birmingham had followed suit. That was further north. Closer to me. But nonetheless, still quite some distance. Then Liverpool. Just 30 miles.
By Tuesday all anyone was talking about was the riots and rumours soon started on Twitter about intelligence of potential trouble here in Manchester.
This was a concern. I live in the centre of Manchester and this was a worry for me. But nonetheless, I brushed much of it off as silly social media rumour.
Photo by Ingy The Wingy
Then I saw a police helicopter from the office window. A quick search on Twitter for ‘Manchester’ was delivering conflicting results. Some people saying ‘all is well,’ others saying the world was practically ending. I checked Greater Manchester Police’s official Twitter account.
Users were being encouraged to check there for accurate and up to the minute information. All day that account had been used to reassure the people of Manchester that all was calm. Now it reported disturbances in the area of Salford.
By the time I left work, somewhat concerned about how close that was getting, I had Twitter open on the GM Police profile and was checking constantly. I needn’t have checked. It was clear in the 20 minute walk from the office to my flat that trouble was brewing. Youths donning balaclavas were gathering in numbers outside the shopping centre and there was a tension in the air.
I hurried home, closed the door and decided I would not be going out for the rest of the evening.
Amazingly, for the first few hours of the trouble, there was little by way of television coverage. We could see some trouble out of our window and could certainly here the continual sirens and police helicopters. But the main source of news came from Twitter. I used the GM Police account as well as the accounts of Manchester based journalists to find out what had happened.
The rest is a story of mindless vandalism, theft, burglary, unnecessary violence and a minority of thugs who put Manchester in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons that night.
But what has stood out for me since the riots is the way in which Greater Manchester Police have made effective us of Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to communicate with the public, to reassure the public and to warn the perpetrators: we are coming for you.
The GM police Facebook page provides updates of arrests made, names and shames the convicted thugs and keeps the public up to date. The Flickr page displays all photos of the thugs wanted in association with the troubles. The Twitter is still continually updated as well.
The Benefits of GMP’s Social Media Presence
In the aftermath of these hideous riots, Greater Manchester Police had to do four things:
- Reassure the public they were safe in Manchester
- Reassure the public that justice would be served
- Make sure the thugs knew they would be caught and that the police were present
- Get the public to report offenders who might not previously have been known to police
Their use of Twitter did just this. Their constant updates reassured the public that they would be doubling police numbers on the street and that there were no disturbances. Their use of Flickr and Facebook to display images of the thugs they wanted in connection told the public that justice was on its way. In addition to that, getting the photos out via social media channels increased the size of the audience hugely. This has proven successful. The public of Manchester is reporting thugs to the police. Mothers have handed in children, perpetrators who saw themselves on the social media sites have handed themselves in and the police have been inundated with calls from the public identifying people in their Flickr images.
In the aftermath, while courts have been sitting all night to hear the cases of those arrested and convicted (now well over 200 arrests and well over 100 people charged) the Twitter and Facebook accounts reported on progress.
GM Police has come under scrutiny for its name and shame on social media approach. But as a concerned member of the Manchester public, I applaud their making such vital information accessible.
Social media has been in the press for ‘helping rioters to organise’ the disturbances. And while we cannot stop the use of social media channels for such purposes, what GM Police are showing is that they can effectively be used to counter such problems as well.