Twitter, information sharing and the London riots?


  • Emma Tonkin,

    1. Emma Tonkin was originally educated as a physicist, but has since diversified. She works as a researcher at UKOLN, University of Bath, United Kingdom
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Heather D. Pfeiffer,

    1. Heather D. Pfeiffer is college research faculty at New Mexico State University in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She is interested in knowledge engineering and management, database management and modeling of domains of information using automatic ontology building
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Greg Tourte

    1. Greg Tourte is a research associate at the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. He currently specializes in large climate dataset management, distribution and visualization. He also maintains a supercomputer and the associated data processing server farm in his spare time
    Search for more papers by this author


Editor's Summary

The prolific commentary disseminated via Twitter on the riots in London and other British cities in August 2011 has given rise to the question of whether their reflection in such social media forums may have added to the unrest. Investigators analyzed 600,000 tweets and retweets about the riots for evidence that Twitter was used as a central organizational tool to promote illegal group action. Results indicated that irrelevant tweets died out and that Twitter users retweeted to show support for their beliefs in others' commentaries. Tweets offered by well-known and popular individuals were more likely to be retweeted. In the case of the British riots, there is little overt evidence that Twitter was used to promote illegal activities at the time, though it was useful for spreading word about subsequent events.