A Study Has Found That Twitter Picks Up Riots Faster Than the Police

Twitter has a reputation for being the first place to pick up breaking news. The nature of the platform means that when something newsworthy happens, the easiest way to broadcast information about it from the ground is through a tweet, especially in countries with less powerful internet. Now a study has found that beyond that, Twitter is actually a better riot detector than actual police forces.

The study was carried out by Cardiff University, and they used the 2011 London riots as a yardstick. According to the study, it took police an hour and 23 minutes longer to pick up reports in Enfield through traditional means than it would have done if they had been scanning Twitter.

Of course a lot has changed since 2011, and it's now fairly common practice for police to keep an eye on social media. Criminals have been tracked down through Facebook appeals, evidence has been gathered from profiles and, yes, riots have monitored by keeping track of activity on Twitter and Facebook.

The researchers used a set of machine learning algorithms and scanned 1.6 million tweets relating to the riots - which quickly spread beyond London - to create a kind of virtual database, paying particular attention to the timing, location and content of the tweets. Similar tools have been used on Twitter to predict things like election results and even when earthquakes will hit.

The benefits of a 'Twitter police scanner' extend beyond timing, they're also accurate in terms of locating the source of the problem. Currently, the partnership between law enforcement and Twitter is somewhat abstract, each department has their own approach. If Twitter are willing to create a kind of 'one size fits all' system for police and emergency rescue departments could use, it could significantly improve efficiency and even save lives.

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